Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Photographer and Actor Allan Arbus Passes On

Allan Arbus, former fashion photographer who found even more fame playing psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H, died 19 April 2013 at the age of 95. The cause was congestive heart failure.

Allan Arbus was born 15 February 1918 in New York City. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. It was while he was in school that he developed not only interest in acting, but, due to his love of Benny Goodman's music, an interest in playing the clarinet as well. He started taking classes at City College when he was only 15 years old. He left City College after only a year and a half to take a position as a copy boy in the art department of Russek’s Department Store.

Diane Arbus, photo by Allan Arbus
It was at Russek's Department Store that Allan Arbus met Diane Nemerov. The two fell in love and were married in 1941. Allan and Diane Arbus eventually started taking fashion photographs for Russek's. Mr. Arbus's career as a fashion photographer was interrupted by World War II. He served as a photographer in the United States Army Signal Corps in Burma. Once he was demobilised in 1946, he and Mrs. Arbus established a photography studio on West 54th Street in New York City. It was not long afterwards that they received a contract from Condé Nast to take photographs for such magazines as Glamour and Vogue. The Arbuses would go onto to shoot photographs for such publications as Harper's Bazaar and Seventeen, as well as photographs for advertising. Their partnership would last until 1956 when Diane ended it to pursue her photographs of those on the fringes of society. Allan Arbus continued in fashion photography for a time (the Diane and Allan Arbus studio remained open until 1969), but increasingly his attention would taken by acting.

Allan Arbus began his acting career in off Broadway productions and plays at Caffe Cino. He made his film debut in 1961 in an uncredited part in Hey, Let's Twist. In 1969 Mr. Arbus moved to Los Angeles to pursue his acting career. He made his television debut in an episode of Here Come the Brides. That year he appeared in the film Putney Swope.

It was in 1973 that he was cast in his most famous role, that of Dr. Sidney Freedman in M*A*S*H. He continued to appear in the recurring role of the show until it ended in 1984, even appearing in its final episode. In the Seventies Mr. Arbus was also a regular on Working Stiffs. He also appeared on such shows as The Mod Squad, Chopper One, The Odd Couple, Archer, Karen, Hawaii Five-O, The Tony Randall Show, Wonder Woman, Taxi, The Rockford Files, and Salvage 1. He appeared such films as The Christian Licorice Store (1971), Cisco Pike (1972), Greaser's Palace (1972), The Young Nurses (1973), Coffy (1973), Cinderella Liberty (1973), Law and Disorder (1974), Damien: Omen II (1978), Americathon (1979), and The Last Married Couple in America (1980).

In addition to his continuing role as Dr. Freedman on M*A*S*H, in the Eighties Allan Arbus was a regular on the TV show The Four Seasons. He also appeared on such shows as Here's Boomer, Bret Maverick, Quincy M.E., Spies, O'Hara, Duet, and Hunter. He appeared in the films Gangster Wars (1981), Volunteers (1985), Crossroads (1986), and Too Much Sun (1990).  In the Nineties Mr. Arbus appeared on such shows as Brooklyn Bridge, Law & Order, In the Heat of the Night, Mad About You, N.Y.P.D. Blue, Judging Amy, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He appeared in the films Josh and S.A.M. (1993), Lieberman in Love (1995), In Dark Places (1997), and Making Contact (1999).

Although much attention has been paid to Allan Arbus's acting career in the media, it must be remembered that he was a photographer first. What is more, Mr. Arbus was a very talented photographer. Alongside his wife Diane Arbus, Allan Arbus shot photographs of such models as Dorian Leigh and Nancy Berg. They developed a style unique at the time, shooting their models in motion.

Of course, Allan Arbus would become better known to most Americans for his acting, at which he was also very good. In the obituary for Allan Arbus in The New York Times, Alan Alda told how Mr. Arbus was so convincing as a psychiatrist that he would sit and talk to him between takes as if he was a psychiatrist. There can be little doubt that many Americans were convinced he was one as well. While Allan Arbus may have been best known as Dr. Freedman on M*A*S*H and he played many similar doctors over the years, he could be equally convincing in other roles as well. Indeed, he gave a great performance as the drug dealer Arturo Vitroni in Coffy. Allan Arbus was a multi-talented man, one who was a great photographer and a great actor as well. From all reports he was very good at the clarinet as well. He was truly a rarity--a man of many talents who was good at them all.

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