Don Matheson was born in Dearborn, Michigan. He left high school at the age of sixteen, and continued his education whilst in service in the Marine Corps.
After some time in the Army Airborne division, Don was then transfered to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). He acted as an agent for the United Nations Command, posted in Korea. Whilst in Korea, Don was awarded the Bronze Star for valorous leadership and a Purple Heart for injuries suffered in an explosion. His CID work included investigations in to the use of narcotics amongst Army troops.
Don served in the Army for six and half years, before moving on to join the Detroit Police Department. His experience in investigating narcotics trafficing was soon recognized and he continued with undercover narcotics work for the police. During this time Don was considering other careers. Don studied pre law at Wayne University, with intention of becoming a lawyer. Don even spent time as a jazz drummer, and took a refresher course in drums.
It was during a break away from the police that Don considered a career in acting. He approached the Vanguard Playhouse Repertory Company, and was asked to do a scene from A Streetcar Named Desire. A director from the Vanguard Playhouse was impressed and offered Don a part in a play called Lower Depths. He resigned from the police force and continued with the Vanguard Playhouse for a year in plays such as Leave it to Jane, Billy the Kid, and Purple Dust. During this time the opportunity also arose to appear in commercials.
Don moved briefly to New York, living in Greenwich Village. He appreared in an off broadway play for a while for a very low wage. He decided to move on to Los Angeles to seek greater opportunities. He found himself an agent, George Morris, and had a couple of guest starring roles in television series such as McHale's Navy (1962) where he played Lt. Harris in a very brief scene. He was tested, unsuccessfully, for a number of leading roles, including for The Long Hot Summer in 1965 which was loosely based on the William Faulkner short stories (also made into a film with Paul Newman in 1958). He was offered a long term contract with a major film studio, Universal, which he turned down because he didn't want to be tied to a studio for seven years. He kept going by taking on other odd jobs to pay the bills during this time.
On 31st October 1963, Don met his first wife Maxine Arnold at a Halloween party at a place called the Raincheck Room in Hollywood. Maxine was an actress at the time and had appeared in a number of plays and television guest roles. Within a year, 29th August 1964 to be precise, they were married in New York. Both were having a tough time getting frequent work, and they concentrated on Don's career, believing and hoping that it was only a matter of time before his career would take off. Land of the Giants was the big break, but it was also hard on Maxine whose career had yet to blossom, and the situation contributed to their break up. Maxine went on to become an agent, and indeed, became Kevin Hagen's agent for a while.
In the mid sixties, Don began his involvement in Irwin Allen's science fiction series. In 1965 he appeared in Allen's Lost in Space as a non speaking alien called Rethso in The Sky is Falling. He was heavily painted in make up. Later in 1967, Don appeared in a second episode called Revolt of the Androids as a robot dressed in a 'Superman' style costume.
Don Matheson was the first of the main cast to be signed up for Land of the Giants. In February 1967, Don appeared in a scene at the end of the 8 minute promotion reel. He was signed up with the option of appearing eventually in the series itself. However, as filming on Land of the Giants didn't start until much later, Irwin Allen was paying Don even though he was not working on anything at that time. Irwin Allen didn't want him to be seen in something else just before appearing in Land of the Giants, but did want to get his monies worth. So, Don was cast as Proto in Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Don was totally unrecognizable in a lizard like costume. Don has enjoyed recalling his time working with Irwin Allen in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space.
Don eventually appeared, without any disguise, as Mark Wilson in Land of the Giants. He played a successful engineer and businessman whose skills were called upon frequently in attempts to escape from the alien planet or to free the other passengers from their giant captors.
Don's friendship with co star Deanna Lund grew throughout the series, and in April 1970 they married. Their daughter Michele (also now an actress) was born in 1971, but Deanna and Don later divorced in the late seventies.
Since leaving Land of the Giants, Don has had many guest appearances in television shows and movies. He appeared in series such as Emergency, Shaft, the Kurt Russell western series The Quest, and in the mid seventies Don starred as Cameron Faulkner in the daytime soap General Hospital.
In 1984, Don had a regular role in the primetime series Falcon Crest. He played Richard Channing's henchman for a season. He also appeared briefly in another primetime soap Dynasty.
Don worked with Irwin Allen again in 1985 when he appeared in Allen's production of Alice in Wonderland. He played the Red Knight, and has to joust on horseback against Lloyd Bridge's character the White Knight. The rigid suit of red armour will not have helped ease of movement much.
In more recent years, Don hasn't been seen in as many television roles. He has enjoyed meeting fans from the U.K. and in 1991 attended the ROVACON convention in Virginia. His tremendous sense of humour has shone through in meetings with followers of Land of the Giants.
In 1995, Don joined his fellow Land of the Giants cast members in The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen documentary which paid homage to the Land of the Giants creator. This was followed by gatherings at the 1998 Return to Earth convention which celebrated the new Lost in Space movie, and several visits to the Hollywood Show in Los Angeles and Las Vegas and the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey.
With the release of Land of the Giants on DVD, the series gained a new generation of fans, and the cast gathered together in April 2011 for a special commentary recording for the British DVD release. All six of the cast sat in a recording studio, whilst Giants Log watched and listened in via Skype, and discussed and recalled their memories of making the pilot episode, The Crash.
The devastating news of his death on 29th June 2014 was a shock to not only his family and friends, but also to legions of fans around the globe who got to know this "giant" amongst "little people" for his fondly remembered role of Mark Wilson nearly half a century ago. Don leaves behind his former wife and lifelong friend Deanna Lund, their daughter Michele and her husband Jason and young family who Don was able to spend precious time with in recent years.