Courson was born in Weed, California. Her father, Columbus "Corky" Courson (1918 – 2008) , had been a navy bombardier (becoming a commander in the U. S. Naval Reserve) and became a junior high school principal in Villa Park, California. Her mother, Pearl "Penny" Courson, was a homemaker who did interior design. After she died at age 90 in 2014, her New York Times obituary described her as a regular reader of that newspaper and a "connoisseur of the arts. ” Pamela had one sibling, a sister. She attended Orange High School in Orange, California.