Tim Matheson Saves the Lampoon and Drops Back in With ‘Dead Fred’

What self-respecting baby boomer doesn’t remember “Jonny Quest,” the ‘60s prime-time ABC animated series about a young boy who traveled the world with his scientist father and his dog Bandit?

Tim Matheson certainly does. And for good reason.

“I was Jonny Quest,” says the star of “Animal House” and the current feature comedy “Drop Dead Fred,” in which he plays Phoebe Cates’ philandering hubby.

But being the voice of Jonny wasn’t “a very high-profile job. It’s out on video now. If anything survives long enough then it becomes a cult hit.”


The 43-year-old Glendale native escaped the pressures of childhood stardom because, Matheson says, he “didn’t hit as a kid.” His first series, the 1961 Robert Young comedy “Window on Main Street,” was canceled after one season.

“I didn’t have much to overcome. It wasn’t like I was on ‘Father Knows Best.’ ”

As a teen, Matheson appeared in such films as “Yours, Mine and Ours” and “Divorce, American Style.”

“I got to work with that generation’s really big stars like Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason,” Matheson says. “It was great learning experience to see how those guys handled their success and how they prepared. Working with Lucille Ball was just a master class in how to do comedy.”

Matheson did put his acting career on the back burner for 18 months to become co-chairman and co-CEO for National Lampoon Inc.

“We got the company out of financial straits through a merger and we resuscitated the magazine.”

Though still a major stockholder, Matheson bid farewell to the business world last year. “I found it creatively unrewarding because I was spending all my time with money and business people. I think one of the reasons why I became an actor is so I wouldn’t be around people like that.”