Allan Arbus; photographer became character actor

Allan Arbus was most known for his role on the TV comedy “M*A*S*H.’’
2009 file/reuters
Allan Arbus was most known for his role on the TV comedy “M*A*S*H.’’

NEW YORK — Allan Arbus — who left the successful fashion photography business he and his wife, Diane, built to become an actor, most memorably playing the caustic psychiatrist Major Sidney Freedman on the hit television series ‘‘M*A*S*H’’ — died Friday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 95.

Mr. Arbus appeared in such films as ‘‘Coffy’’ and ‘‘Crossroads’’ and was a television regular during the 1970s and ’80s, appearing on ‘‘Taxi,’’ “Starsky & Hutch,’’ “Matlock,’’ and other shows.

But his best-known role was Freedman, the liberal psychiatrist who appeared in a dozen episodes of ‘‘M*A*S*H.’’ He treated wounds of the psyche much as Captain Hawkeye Pierce treated surgery patients: with a never-ending string of zingers.


Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye, recalled Mr. Arbus as a very believable therapist.

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‘‘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?’’’

Allan Franklin Arbus was born in New York City. He entered City College at 15, but left 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 Allan Arbus left to serve as a photographer in the US 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 Conde Nast to supply photos for the magazines Glamour and Vogue.

In 1956, Diane Arbus dissolved their business partnership to work full time on her haunting shots of marginalized people. Allan Arbus continued to work in fashion photography, but also took up acting.


The Arbuses separated in 1959 and divorced in 1969, when Allan Arbus moved to Los Angeles. Diane Arbus committed suicide in 1971. In 1976, Allan Arbus married Mariclare Costello. She survives him, as do his two daughters from his first marriage, Amy and Doon, and a daughter from his second marriage, Arin.

Allan Arbus’s last television role was on the HBO series ‘‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’’ in 2000.