Actor Harmon Drops Bid for Custody of Sister’s Son, 12

Times Staff Writer

Actor Mark Harmon dropped his bid Tuesday to gain custody of his 12-year-old nephew Sam, ending a bitter fight with the youngster’s mother, Harmon’s sister Kristin, the ex-wife of the late rock star Rick Nelson.

The estranged brother and sister, children of University of Michigan football all-American Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox, appeared to have begun their reconciliation as they emerged from a courtroom in the Los Angeles County Courthouse with their arms around one another.

Kristin Nelson, who completed a drug rehabilitation program in June, flashed a victory sign to waiting reporters.


“Sam’s coming home,” she said, beaming.

She added that she and her son would enter family counseling together and that “everyone will be working very hard on everybody being happy again.”

The agreement by which Sam will return to his mother ended a dispute between Nelson on one side and Harmon and his actress wife, Pam Dawber, on the other. Under the agreement, Harmon will have visitation rights with the boy.

Sam has lived with Harmon and Dawber since Nelson entered a treatment program in May for dependency on prescription drugs.

As Nelson was about to be released from a Century City hospital, she said, she was told that Sam no longer wanted to live with her and that Harmon and Dawber wanted custody.

Sam was aware that his mother used drugs, Harmon’s attorney, Lawrence M. Stone, said in his opening statement last week. He characterized Sam as having a troubled life because of the 1985 plane crash that killed his father and because of his parents’ “vitriolic” divorce when he was a toddler.

Dawber, star of a new television series, “My Sister Sam,” testified on Monday that Sam was afraid to return home, that his mother was “erratic” and that she yelled at him and called him names.


Under cross-examination by Nelson’s attorney, Carl Osborne, Dawber admitted that living with natural parents is best for any child. And she acknowledged that she had made no effort to determine how Nelson felt physically or emotionally before seeking custody of the youngster.

“Sam said he doesn’t want to go home,” Dawber, who married Harmon in March, testified. “I’m following his desire. I think his desire is reasonable.”

Dawber, who testified that she had seen Nelson “blasted” while shopping in Santa Monica, denied having used cocaine while she worked on the television series “Mork and Mindy.” She added that any witnesses Osborne might produce saying that she had used cocaine would be lying.

“This is an unconditional surrender as far as we’re concerned,” Osborne said of the settlement Tuesday. “The judge (Ronald E. Swearinger) said it best when he said the boy is grieving over the death of his father, and he is blaming his mother.”

Osborne said Harmon and Dawber initiated discussion of a settlement shortly before Dawber was to continue testifying Tuesday morning.

“I don’t think Pam Dawber wanted to get more deeply involved,” he said. “She has a successful career.”


Dawber could not be reached for comment.