Allan Arbus, the man who most memorably played the smart mouth psychiatrist Sidney Freeman on the iconic comedy “M*A*S*H*” in the 1970s, died at the age of 95, his family confirms.
Arbus took a chance when he left the successful fashion photography business he and his wife built to become an actor. The gamble played off. Arbus appeared in films like “Coffy” and “Crossroads.” He was a TV regular during the 1970s and ’80s, appearing on “Taxi,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Matlock” and other shows.
Arbus’ best-known role was Major Freedman, the liberal psychiatrist who appeared in a dozen episodes of “M*A*S*H.” He treated wounds of the psyche much as Capt. Hawkeye Pierce treated surgery patients: with a quick tongue and dry wit.
Allan Franklin Arbus was born in New York City on Feb. 15, 1918. Arbus went to DeWitt Clinton High School and entered City College at 15. He left college a year and a half later for a job at Russek’s Department Store, where he met Diane Nemerov, the daughter of the store’s owners.
They married in 1941 and became passionate about photography. They shot fashion photographs for Russek’s before Arbus left to serve as a photographer in the Army Signal Corps in Burma during World War II. When he was discharged in 1946 the Arbuses established a studio on West 54th Street for fashion photography and soon won a contract from Condé Nast to supply photos for magazines like Glamour and Vogue, according to the New York Times.
When the Arbuses separated in 1959 and divorced in 1969, Allan Arbus moved to Los Angeles and pursued acting full time. In 1976, Arbus married Mariclare Costello, who survives him along with their daughter and two other daughters from his first marriage.
Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye on “M*A*S*H*,” said Arbus was so effective a therapist that he began to talk to him as if he were one.
“I was so convinced that he was a psychiatrist, I used to sit and talk with him between scenes,” Alda said in an interview with the Archive of American Television. “After a couple months of that I noticed he was giving me these strange looks, like ‘How would I know the answer to that?’ ”