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The Untold Truth Of Mark Harmon

If you're at all familiar with police procedurals, you've probably heard the name Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Played by actor Mark Harmon, Gibbs was the lead character on "NCIS" for 18 seasons. Harmon is best known for his near-two decade stint on the beloved CBS show, but he's had an interesting career away from the series as well, and his personal life has been anything but boring.

Before he rose to fame playing his laconic special agent on "NCIS," Harmon featured in a number of other successful television shows, most notably the medical dramas "St. Elsewhere" and "Chicago Hope." He also co-starred in several mainstream films, including "The Presidio" with Sean Connery and Meg Ryan, and "Sealing Home" with Jodie Foster. In 2002, Harmon had a memorable guest arc on "The West Wing," which earned him an Emmy nomination. He secured the lead role in "NCIS" the following year.

Harmon's acting career has certainly been fascinating, but so has his life away from the cameras. While "NCIS" fans may feel like they know Gibbs pretty well at this point, there's probably a lot you don't know about the man who played him for so long. Keep reading to discover the untold truth of Mark Harmon.

He was an award-winning college quarterback

Mark Harmon was a talented athlete back in the day. A native of California, the actor was a quarterback at UCLA for two seasons (1972 and 1973) and led the Bruins to a 17-5 record during his time there. Football runs in Harmon's blood: His father, Tom Harmon, was also a gifted college player, having scored 33 touchdowns for the University of Michigan. He used to love watching clips of his dad in action when he was growing up. "I was literally, like, 8 before I realized my dad ever got tackled, because on the reel, he scores every time he gets the ball," the actor told Parade. Tom Harmon later became a football broadcaster, which furthered his son's love for the game.

Though he wouldn't start acting until after college, Harmon's time as a football star led to an early brush with Hollywood royalty. In 1973, he won a National Football Foundation award. That same year, John Wayne was in attendance at the ceremony to accept the Gold Medal award. As Harmon told Stephen Colbert, it was an unforgettable night for several reasons. Unaware that it was a tux-only event, Harmon walked into a clothes store at the last minute and purchased a dove gray tuxedo with a frilly undershirt. Surprised by his bold outfit choice, Wayne called him "rebel" all night. "He signed my program, 'To the rebel, may the wind always be at your back, John Wayne,'" Harmon recalled.

Ozzie and Harriet got Harmon into acting

Despite his successes on the football field, Mark Harmon decided to pursue a career as an actor. The reason behind his decision is an unexpected family connection. After his sister, Kristin, married the musician and actor Ricky Nelson, Harmon began hanging out with her parents-in-law, who happened to be the famous TV duo Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Ricky had starred with his parents in the sitcom "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" in the 1950s and 1960s, and, as Harmon told Parade, "Ricky was a really good guy." Harmon became close with Ricky's father as well, and he recalled how Ozzie joined him at the beach one summer when he was working as a lifeguard.

At the time, Ozzie was filming a spinoff of "Ozzie and Harriet" called "Ozzie's Girls." One day, Ozzie asked Harmon to fill in for an actor who couldn't make it, and he agreed. He spent his time on set following Ozzie around and watching him work in the editing room. After that experience, all he could think about was acting. "That changed my course," Harmon said. He forgot about football and began taking acting classes. Before long he was landing small roles in television and movies. His big break came in 1983 when he was cast in the hospital drama "St. Elsewhere."

He was once named Sexiest Man Alive

Leroy Jethro Gibbs may not be the sexiest fictional agent ever created, but there was a time when Mark Harmon was considered a major hunk. Much to his embarrassment, he was named People Magazine's Sexiest Man Alive in 1986. In 2015, he told People that he thought the title was "silly." Harmon also revealed that he found out about it in a rather unconventional way. The actor had recently done an interview with People about leaving "St. Elsewhere," but he had no idea the mag was about to bestow the title of Sexiest Man Alive upon him. He went to play basketball with his friends one evening and "both backboards on either side of the court were plastered with the cover," he recalled. "So that's how I found out."

His friends certainly found it funny, and so did Harmon. The actor poked fun at the whole episode when he hosted "Saturday Night Live" in 1987, delivering his opening monologue in nothing but a bath towel. He joked that the original plan had been for him to come out in nothing at all. "I went to Lorne [Michaels] and I said, 'The costume is degrading,'" Harmon said during his monologue. "He said, 'Look, Mark, tomorrow's Mother's Day and that's something for them.'"

Harmon once rescued a teenager from a burning car

Leroy Jethro Gibbs is known for being a pretty heroic guy, but can we say the same for Mark Harmon? Apparently, we can. Harmon had a real-life brush with danger in 1996 when he staged a life-saving rescue right outside his front door. One evening, two teenage boys were driving down his street when their car crashed and caught fire. The driver was able to free himself, but the passenger, Colin Specht, remained trapped inside. Luckily for Specht, Harmon saw what was happening and reacted like lightning. He appeared as if from nowhere with a sledgehammer, breaking the window and pulling the 16 year old to safety.

"I owe everything to him," Specht told CBS years later, adding that he "would not be alive" had Harmon not jumped into action. Specht suffered third-degree burns and was in hospital for a long time following the accident, only learning from his parents that he had been rescued by Mark Harmon. Speaking about the incident for the first time in 2013, the actor was incredibly humble. "I won't take credit for it, because if the car explodes and I'm there next to the car, then you're talking about two young boys who don't have a father," he said. According to Specht, however, Harmon is a true hero. "There's no way I can repay him, except for pay it forward, and I try to do that in my life," he said.

He had a memorable on-set experience with Elizabeth Taylor

Harmon shared the screen with several big stars before he became one himself. In 1989, he starred alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the TV movie "Sweet Bird of Youth," and it was quite the experience. Speaking to Stephen Colbert, Harmon revealed that Taylor had it in her contract that she would only work for eight hours a day. She had an assistant with her that would keep track of the time, and when her time was up, Taylor would promptly leave the set. One day, Taylor had been working two hours longer than her allotted eight hours, and she made sure everyone on the set knew it. Harmon, exasperated by all the scheduling difficulties, said something to the effect of "welcome to the club."

Taylor glared at him when he made the comment, but after that day she gave up her eight-hour clause and stayed on set for as long as everyone else. The most memorable part of the story happened during the wrap party, which Taylor hosted at her own home. The Hollywood icon gave everyone who attended the party gifts, but she had something extra special for Harmon. Within his gift box was a solid gold 1959 Hamilton Select watch with an engraving on the inside that read, "M.H. Two hours, tik-tok. Love you, T." That's one watch that will never go out of style.