Biography: Allan Arbus

While the name Allan Arbus may not be automatically recognizable, the name of his most famous character, the sharp witted, but also wise Major Sidney Freedman is one that most people can identify with. His recurring role on the hit series M*A*S*H made his face if not his name, recognized around the world. He played the part of psychiatrist to the doctors and soldiers so well that many people assumed he must have a background in the field.

Fellow actor, Alan Alda, who played the role of Hawkeye Pierce on the hit show was quoted as saying “He was so authentic in the role it was hard to believe that he wasn’t that person”. In an earlier interview he explained “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?”

Allan Franklin Arbus was born in New York City on February 15, 1918. His father was in finance and his mother was an English teacher. He graduated from high school at age 15 and went on to briefly attend City College. His first job was at Russek’s Department Store. It was here that he met Diane Nemerov who would become his first wife. He was 23 and she was 18. They had two daughters together Doon and Amy.mash

Shortly after their marriage, Arbus joined the Army Signal Corps and was able to pursue his interest in photography in Burma. After the war, he and Diane opened what became a very successful fashion photo studio and worked together for many years before she decided to break off and work on her own in 1956. The couple separated in 1959 and divorced in 1969. Diane committed suicide in 1971.

When he was in his forties, he decided to take acting lessons and try to break into the field. It was through his acting classes that he met his second wife Mariclare Costello. They married in 1976 and had one daughter Arin. He appeared in a variety of TV series before, during and after his 10 years with M*A*S*H.

Allan Arbus died on April 19, 2013 at his home in Los Angeles, Calif. at the age of 95 from congestive heart failure.

While Mr. Arbus hadn’t been seen in a new TV series since 2000, he is in millions of homes daily because the reruns of MASH continue to be very popular.

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