Nov 12, 2012

Tim Matheson

During the 1960s, Tim Matheson voiced some of my favorite cartoon adventurers -- Jonny Quest, Sinbad Jr., Jace on Space Ghost, Young Samson -- all with strong homoerotic friendships.

I didn't actually see him on screen until Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968), about a blended family with 18 kids.   He plays 18-year old Mike, a clean-cut footballer who expresses no interest in girls -- but takes his shirt off, revealing a magnificent physique.

You didn't see shirtless teenagers much in the 1960s.  I was stunned.  And hooked.

I saw him on tv a lot during the 1970s: not a lot of shirtless shots, but lots of intense, passionate same-sex relationships.  For instance, in The Quest, which lasted for only 15 episodes in the fall of 1976, Tim and Kurt Russell play brothers who didn't grow up together, and therefore treat each other more like lovers as they travel the Old West in search of their kidnapped sister.

In The Runaway Barge (1976), Tim and Bo Hopkins, workers on a barge on the Mississippi, struggle to keep it from crashing with a load of chlorine, and end up walking into the sunset together.

 Then something changed.  In Animal House  (1978), Otter (Tim) displayed a beautifully tanned chest in a toga, not as magnificent as I remembered it. Unfortunately, he formed no strong bonds with any of the other boys of Delta House.  Instead, he spent the movie sleeping with every woman in sight, including the Dean's wife.

I continued to go to Tim's movies for a few years.  He was displayed in his underwear or nude a lot, but sometimes beefcake is not enough.

He often played horny teen slackers with little time for same-sex romance.  In Up the Creek (1984), about an intercollegiate rafting race, his Bob has three buddies (Stephen Furst, Dan Monahan, Sandy Helberg), but doesn't buddy-bond with any of them.

Or else New Sensitive Men (like Ryan O'Neal), slim and handsome, but so busy bedding women that they didn't have a lot of time for same-sex romance.  In A Little Sex (1982), for instance, Michael (Tim Matheson) has a long-term girlfriend plus the dreamy-eyed glances of every woman in town -- but his only male friend is his brother (Edward Herrman).

Or else Ordinary Guys and their wives and kids caught up in paranormal horror.  In Impulse (1984), an earthquake in a small town gives everyone poor impulse control.  Before long, they're fighting, stealing, and having indiscriminate heterosexual sex.

What changed?  The shift from television to movies?  From teen to adult? Or did the culture change, 1980s conservativism, mechanical bulls, "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche," making close same-sex friendships suspect?

I gave up in the mid-1980s.  Since then, Tim has been in over 60 movies  I've seen three.