Allan Arbus, the Psychiatrist on TV's 'M*A*S*H,' Dies at 95

Allan Arbus MASH - P 2013
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Allan Arbus MASH - P 2013

A successful fashion photographer who was married to Diane Arbus, he turned to acting in the early 1960s and worked steadily in television and films for decades.

Allan Arbus, a top-notch photographer who left that business to become an actor, most notably starring as sardonic psychiatrist Maj. Sidney Freedman on the CBS hit series M*A*S*H, has died. He was 95.

Arbus died Friday at his home in Los Angeles, his daughter Amy told The New York Times.

Arbus played Freedman in 12 episodes spanning a decade on M*A*S*H, which ran from 1972-83 on CBS, with his character often being called upon to help heal the emotional and psychic wounds of the 4077th’s beleaguered medical staff stationed in South Korea during the Korean War.

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In his first appearance on the show, in the second season, Arbus’ character is sent to the unit in order to evaluate the cross-dressing Maxwell Klinger (Jamie Farr) and decide whether the corporal should be discharged. In the series’ acclaimed finale, seen by a record-breaking 125 million viewers, Freedman gets Hawkeye (Alan Alda) to remember bit by bit the events that caused him to go crazy.

“I was so convinced that he was a psychiatrist, I used to sit and talk with him between scenes,” Alda told the Archive of American Television in a 2000 interview. “After a couple months of that, I noticed he was giving me these strange looks, like, ‘How would I know the answer to that?’ ”

The native New Yorker also appeared regularly on television in dozens of other series, including Here Come the Brides, Mod Squad, The Odd Couple, Karen, Wonder Woman, The Rockford Files, Quincy M.E., Cagney & Lacey, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue and Judging Amy. His last role came in 2000 on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Arbus’ film résumé included Coffy (1973), W.C. Fields & Me (1976), Damien: Omen II (1978), The Electric Horseman (1979), Crossroads (1986) and In Dark Places (1997).

Born in New York City on Feb. 15, 1918, Arbus left City College for a job at New York’s Russeks Department Store, where he met Diane Nemerov, the daughter of the store’s owners. They married in 1941 and five years later established a photographic advertising business called Diane & Allan Arbus, with Diane as art director and Allan as the photographer.

The pair secured a contract with Conde Nast, and their work appeared in such magazines as Glamour, Vogue, Seventeen and Harper’s Bazaar. After his wife dissolved the business in 1956 to go off on her own (she would become famous for photographing “deviant” people like dwarves and circus performers), Arbus continued on for a number of years as a solo photographer. The couple divorced in 1969 after a decade of separation.

Diane Arbus committed suicide in July 1971 at age 48. She was portrayed by Nicole Kidman in Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006), with future Modern Family star Ty Burrell playing Allan.

In addition to Amy, Arbus is survived by Doon, another daughter from his marriage to Diane; his second wife, Mariclare, and their daughter Arin.