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‘Animal House’ to ‘Virgin River,’ Tim Matheson Shares Secrets From 62-years in Hollywood

At 21, he was a Marine and starred in a movie with Lucille Ball — don't miss the adorable pic!

Doctors, cowboys, frat boys…actor Tim Matheson has seen his fair share of characters in his storied six-decade career. But with his most recent role as Vernon “Doc” Mullins on the hit Netflix series, Virgin River, audiences are being reintroduced to the major acting chops of the 75-year-old former Marine.

“In my life I’ve played a lot of doctors,” he’s told Survived the Shows.  “I mean, when I did a western with Kurt Russell, I was a doctor.  Even in Animal House!  There must be something about me that is, you know, I have a good bedside manner, perhaps.” 

Here, we take a look back at some of Matheson’s biggest and most-beloved roles, and find out what he is planning next.

When did Tim Matheson start acting?

Born and raised in the shadows of the Hollywood sign, actor Tim Matheson says his career was a series of coincidences and timely events, but he always wanted to be an actor. His shot at the bright lights came at age 13 in Robert Young’s Window on Main Street, followed by three episodes of Leave It To Beaver.  

“I was so starstruck meeting Jerry Mathers,” Matheson recalled.  “He invited me to his house for a party and I did three episodes over the course of a season and I remember thinking, ‘This is it, man. This is the Hollywood Life! This is how it beings!’ And I kept thinking that with all those first jobs and then nothing would happen. That’s the real Hollywood.”

Was Tim Matheson in the military?

Tim’s dad was a training pilot, which inspired him to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1968 at 21 years old. That same year, Tim’s film Yours, Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, was released. 

At the end of the film, his character, Mike Beardsley, leaves his family to enter the Marine Corps. “On the day I was to film a physical in the movie, I actually was called to go to my draft physical as well,” Matheson said.  “We had to reschedule shooting.”

Yours, Mine, ours
Yours, Mine and Ours, 1968, with Lucille Ball (center) and Tim Matheson (top right)Snap/Shutterstock

Wanting to keep his acting career on the down-low during his Marine stay, it was only a matter of time before it became known. Ultimately, a friend who served in the 4th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California blabbed. 

“He did blow my cover.”  Having just left the Marines with his hair cropped short, Matheson starred in How To Commit Marriage, donning a wig for the film. 

Film still of ‘How To Commit Marriage’ – 1969

And then changing it up, Matheson said, “To play counterculture hippies, I let my hair grow and put on a short hair wig when I would go to my Reserve unit.  That worked out for awhile and then after two and a half years, my gunny was affronted by the fact that I was wearing a short hair wig and wasn’t following to the letter, the short, short, hair.” 

But with his boyish smile, Matheson told his gunny that he was “the exception that proves the rule because I needed the long hair for my civilian career.” 

He ended his military service as a lance corporal, but had the opportunity to attend Officer Candidates School.  He turned it down to pursue his love of acting. “I was a Hollywood kid.” 

What is Tim Matheson best known for?

Matheson landed a role in The Virginian, a western, and the cowboy theme continued with roles in Bonanza and in 1974’s The Quest alongside a young Kurt Russell. 

“The Quest was one of the most fun things I ever did and I gotta tell you, I worked with some of the best actors I’ve ever worked with: Mel Blanc and Don Messick.  Think of the voice Mel gave Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny!” he recalled.

Kurt Russell, Tim Matheson, ‘The Quest’ – 1976 Columbia TV USA TV Portrait Drama

Then came his breakout role in John Landis’ Animal House. Though an ensemble cast, Matheson stood out as Eric “Otter” Stratton, one of the most fun-loving Deltas of the whole film. 

Originally Landis wanted him to play one of the no-nonsense, straight laced frat boys, but Matheson refused, saying, “I’m tired of playing it straight.”

He succeeded in breaking away from this perceived stereotype and got the role of Otter. “Landis followed me out into the hall after my audition and said I’ve never done this before, but you’ve got the job.”    

Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert – ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’ in 1978

Other standout roles include Vice President John Hoynes in The West Wing, which earned him two Primetime Emmy award nominations, Fletch, A Very Brady Sequel, Hart of Dixie from 2011 to 2015, and currently, his role as Doc Mullins in the Netflix series Virgin River

Who is Tim Matheson married to?

Matheson has been married three times. He was first married to actress Jennifer Leak from 1968 to 1971, whom he met on the set of Yours, Mine, and Ours.

Then in 1985 he married Megan Murphy, with whom he had three children, but they divorced in 2010. “I had been living in Santa Barbara for 20 years but my marriage ended, all my kids were off to school, so I moved back to Los Angeles and just started over,” he told Military Families Magazine.  “One of my first auditions I had was Hart of Dixie.” His character, Dr. Brick Breeland, was central to the story, becoming one of the series favorites and helping Matheson heal from his relationship.  Matheson later directed two episodes per year.  “It sort of grabbed me and took me in with it.  I was in a show that was very popular and it lasted four years.” 

Tim has been married to Elizabeth Marighetto since March of 2018; the two live together in Hollywood, California.

Tim Matheson and wife Elizabeth Marighetto, 2016Jim Ruymen/UPI/Shutterstock

Who does Tim Matheson play on Virgin River?

Enter the Netflix adaptation of Robyn Carr’s Virgin River novel series.  Since 2019, Matheson has played Vernon “Doc” Mullins.  “It’s been a rebirth for me,” he has said.  Virgin River is Matheson’s entrée into the market of streaming shows.  “When the second season dropped in the middle of COVID, we were up in Vancouver shooting the third season,” he recalls

“Our show was like the number one show in the majority of cities in Canada and in the United States and we were all together as a cast and a crew.  It was really wonderful for us to experience the news like that.  I think the show became a comfort kind of place for viewers in the middle of a pandemic.” 

“Doc is the voice of reason and counselor who helps people,” he says.  “It’s a wonderful kind of world to be in and play a character who cares for people and wants to help them.”

When asked his favorite part of plaing Doc, Matheson replies: “It’s fun because I love research. I love digging in, so every episode when some medical thing comes up, I immerse myself in the medical aspects of it. And then if I have to perform, I always need to know, ‘OK, what would a real doctor do in this situation?’ We have a great tech adviser, who’s a nurse, and she’s wonderful.”

Lucky for us Virgin River has begun filming season 5 (which is to premier in the fall) and has also been renewed for season 6.

Tim Matheson as “Doc” in Virgin RiverNetflix

But over the years, Matheson has learned that every five to seven years, it was time to change things up to avoid getting bored or just phoning in a performance, so we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!  

Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years.  Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living.  She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for WomenElle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva.  Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content.  She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.

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