Mark Harmon Recalls the 'Cold Call' That Led to His 36-Year Marriage to Pam Dawber (Exclusive)

The 'NCIS' star married the 'Mork & Mindy' actress one year after their first date

David Livingston/Getty Pam Dawber and Mark Harmon
David Livingston/Getty Pam Dawber and Mark Harmon

When it came to asking out his wife Pam Dawber for the first time, Mark Harmon did not beat around the bush.

The former NCIS star tells PEOPLE a cold call led to their first date — 37 years ago.

A mutual friend wanted to set him up with the Mork & Mindy star via a group date, the author recalled to PEOPLE as he discussed his new historical non-fiction book, Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy, a Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, out Nov. 14.

But Harmon, 72, preferred a more direct approach. “I said, 'Can I just call? Can I get a number and just cold call?' And so I did. I got the number, and I called, and I got an answering machine. And I started to leave a message that said, ‘We don't have to (all) go out. We could get a cup of coffee or something.’ And then she was monitoring and she picked up. We went out that night and we're together ever since.”

The two married a year later “to the day,” he says.

Related: Mark Harmon Shares the Untold Story of a Japanese American WWII Spy: 'No One Knew' (Exclusive)

<p>Ron Galella/WireImage</p> Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber in 2002

Ron Galella/WireImage

Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber in 2002

That fateful first date came shortly after Harmon was crowned PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive in 1986. In that cover story interview, Harmon told PEOPLE that while he wasn't looking for a relationship and was holding out for a marriage that would last.

"I'm real monogamous by nature, and I'm fine being alone like I am now," Harmon said at the time. "When I marry, I want it to be everything this town says it can't be. I'm not into catting around."

Today the couple share two children in their thirties, sons Sean, an actor (who has appeared on NCIS), and Ty, a screenwriter. “I’m proud of our boys,” says Harmon. “They understand the work ethic and they're very different.”

What’s the secret to his and Dawber’s longevity?

“I have no secret,” says Harmon. “We laugh. You got to laugh, and you got to talk and communicate. That's the fun part. Do we sit and talk about it? No. Maybe you just get fortunate and find the right one. We share many things and yet we're really different.”

Related: 'NCIS' Star Mark Harmon Reveals the Secret to His Long-Lasting Success: 'You Earn Luck'

Kevin Mazur/WireImage Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber in 2013
Kevin Mazur/WireImage Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber in 2013

Family time was a big factor in his original decision to play Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS, which ultimately became a 19-season run with Hamon in the leading role.

“It was important to be able to make pancakes on Saturday morning,” says Harmon, who would go on to share scenes with Dawber on NCIS during her story arc as journalist Marcie Warren.

“And there were some times where that meant not sleeping. You just came home and took a shower and came back down. And yet I look back at it and I don't miss the sleep. I still missed things, I was working, but I've been part of [my sons’] lives. I've been able to spend more time with them. In many ways, we've had a great opportunity to kind of grow as a family.”

Gratitude, says Harmon, remains a constant in his life. “I'm so fortunate," he says. "I don't ever wake up not thinking that."

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Harmon's book, co-authored by retired real-life NCIS special agent Leon Carroll Jr., Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy, a Japanese American Spy Hunter, and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor is available Nov. 14 wherever books are sold.

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