|Tom and Mark Harmon|
Instead, Tom Harmon was a football legend, who the University of Michigan honoured recently at their home opener against Notre Dame. They no longer retire numbers, but they awarded Harmon's number 98 to quarterback Devin Gardner for the remainder of his career at Michigan. It is a way for the school to honour Harmon, who was Michigan's first Heisman Trophy winner in 1940.
|Mark Harmon with co-star Morgan Fairchild in "Flamingo Road"|
Dawn of the decade: Flamingo Road
As the 1980s opened, Mark Harmon was just revving up his acting career. I'd seen him briefly in 1979 in the TV series "240-Robert" where he starred with Joanna Cassidy, but that was pretty short-lived.
Then, one day in the summer of 1981 I was flipping channels and landed on Channel 7 where I caught a rerun of a show called "Flamingo Road". It was a night-time soap opera on NBC, designed to compete against "Dallas" and "Knot's Landing". It featured Morgan Fairchild as the villainess Constance Weldon Carlyle. When I tuned in, I remember the scene clearly. Constance's husband Fielding Carlyle was running for the senate. He was giving a speech then just tore up his cue cards and threw them in he air. Fielding Carlyle was Mark Harmon's first major, recurring acting role in a TV series.
The show had a pretty good cast, including Stella Stevens, Barbara Rush, Howard Duff, Christina Raines, Kevin McCarthy, Woody Brown, and John Beck. It started out well, but tanked, and was cancelled after two seasons.
Groundbreaking on St. Elsewhere
The medical drama "St. Elsewhere" had gained a reputation for attacking controversial subjects. None would be more controversial, cutting edge, and forward-looking as one involving Mark Harmon. He joined the show in 1983, playing Dr. Robert Caldwell, who would eventually contract HIV from unprotected sex, leaving the show in 1986. It was one of the first instances of a character on primetime television to contract HIV or AIDS.
|Mark Harmon in "The Prince of Bel-Air"|
|Mark Harmon in|
"The Deliberate Stranger"
|Mark Harmon at far right in "Moonlighting"|
Another banner year
The following year, 1987, was another banner year. He played laid back, beach-bum teacher Freddy Shoop in "Summer School", which I saw in the theatre with some high school buddies. Shoop is a teacher, all set to take off for summer, who is forced to teach summer school in order to save his job. In the meantime, he falls for another teacher, played once again by Kirstie Alley. The movie actually has quite a few of the same actors as "The Prince of Bel-Air".
|The movie poster for "Summer School"|
Closing out the 1980s
Harmon would star in a few more movies, most notably "The Presidio" in 1988 with Sean Connery and Meg Ryan. It was Connery's first movie after his monster success on "The Untouchables" with Kevin Costner. I remember my best friend of the time, Chris Vining, telling me you could drive a truck through all the holes in the plot.
Harmon would also appear in the movies "Let's Get Harry", "Stealing Home" and "Worth Winning", but his theatrical career never took off.
Since then, he has starred in various TV series such as"Reasonable Doubts" with Marlee Matlin from 1991 to 1993, "Charlie Grace" as the title character in 1995, "Chicago Hope" from 1996 to 2000, and did a four-episode stint in 2002 on "The West Wing", earning an Emmy nomination.
In 2003, he guest starred in two episodes of "JAG" which served as a pilot for "NCIS", a show he still work on.
Mark Harmon truly is one of my favourite actors. He is one of those actors who always seemed to be there when I was growing up. He has more range and talent then I think he is given credit for, ranging from a hilarious movie like "Summer School" to an Emmy-nominated performance in "The West Wing".