body, like a golden retriever." And of course, he played baseball, football and rugby in high school. He excelled at football and was recruited out of junior college to play for the Bruins. At UCLA, he studied communications and graduated cum laude, and he still keeps in touch with some of his former teammates. But when he thinks back on those days on the field, he doesn't dwell on the glory. "I probably remember more about the losses than the victories," he says. "I don't play it back easy."
HOWOZZIE & HARRIET CHANGED HIS LIFE
Harmon's football future was forever changed when his sister married pop star Ricky Nelson and he began hanging out with her in-laws, TV stars Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Ricky Nelson, who acted with his parents on the 1950-60s sitcom The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, later died in a plane crash in 1985.
While working as a lifeguard at the beach, Harmon remembers how Ozzie Nelson would often join him. "We'd sit underneath my tower and we'd talk about big band music, as Ozzie started as a big band leader and Harriet was a vocalist."One day, while Nelson was filming his show Ozzie's Girls, the early-'70s spinoff of Ozzie and Harriet, he asked Harmon to fill in for an actor who couldn't be there. Harmon jumped at the chance, shadowing Nelson around the set and into the editing room. After that, he was hooked, Harmon says. "That changed my course."
After college, Harmon chose not to pursue the rigors-and the odds-of playing pro ball. Though some guys on his team did go to the pros-"and they all made more money in one year than I made in the next 15 combined!" he says with a laugh-Harmon took acting classes and began getting work on TV shows and in films, where he intersected with much more experienced actors — like Jason Robards, Karl Malden and Michael Caine — who gave him "time, camaraderie and advice." In 1983, he landed the TV role that blew open the doors for him, as a series regular on the hospital drama St. Elsewhere.
For the next two decades, he appeared in films, including Stealing Home, Wyatt Earp, Summer School and Freaky Friday, and starred in other long-running TV shows while also taking on producing and directing responsibilities-as well as parenting two boys. "I work hard. [But] it's where I come from," he explains, based on the ethic he learned from his father's family, who toiled in Michigan steel mills. Eventually, he says, "I was missing a lot of [family time]." So he scaled back. "And then I read this script called NCIS."
The now-hit show about the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a procedural spinoff of JAG, surprised him with its humor, and he loved the character-and name-of