While researching Hati and Skoll yesterday, I learned of the passing of Allan Arbus (1918-2003) last April. Most of us know Arbus as the caring and liberal psychiatrist Maj. Sidney Freedman on the hit television series “M*A*S*H.” “Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce on the show, paid Arbus the ultimate compliment when he said;
“I was so convinced that he was a psychiatrist I used to sit and talk with him between scenes. After a couple months of that I noticed he was giving me these strange looks, like ‘How would I know the answer to that?’”
Acting however, was only Mr. Arbus’ second career. In his first career, he was a photographer. During World War II, he was a United States Army photographer. After the war he and his first wife, the well-known photographer Diane Arbus started a photographic advertising business in New York City. He produced advertising photographs for magazines like: Glamour, Seventeen, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. Significantly, one of the photographs in Edward Steichen‘s landmark exhibition “The Family of Man” was credited to the couple.
Diane Arbus quit the business in 1956. The couple separated in 1959 and were formally divorced in 1969. I suppose that this makes him the model for the fictionalized non-supportive husband in that very bizarre movie loosely about the life of Diane Arbus and starring Nicole Kidman, Robert Downey, Jr., and Ty Burrel, as Allan Arbus, “Fur.” Diane, famous for her images of marginalized people, committed suicide in 1971.
Mr. Arbus continued as a photographer for several more years. But, of course, he is most famous to us as an actor. And we shall always fondly remember him as Maj. Freedman, whose caring insight brought some level of sanity to the insane reality of M*A*S*H and the Korean War.