Actor Allan Arbus died in Los Angeles Friday at age 95.
We likely love him best as Major Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist who visited Hawkeye Pierce and the 4077th 12 times between 1973 and 1983 (and had a key role in “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the epic “M*A*S*H” series finale that broke all kinds of ratings records). Arbus could sell jokes, and the funnier doctors on the show all seemed to appreciate that.
Arbus essentially began his onscreen career working for a profoundly underrated filmmaker now known as Robert Downey Sr. Downey liked Arbus so much as “Mr. Bad News” in Downey’s 1969 advertising satire “Putney Swope” (one of my all-time favorite comedies) Arbus was cast as the central zoot-suited Christ figure in Downey’s bizarro western “Greaser’s Palace” (another of my all-time favorite comedies).
Already in his fifties when he was cast in “Swope,” Arbus worked plenty subsequent to the Downey movies, appearing in “Cisco Pike,” “Cinderella Liberty” and “The Electric Horseman” and scores of television episodes – guesting on everything from “The Mod Squad,” “The Odd Couple” and “Hawaii Five-0” to “Wonder Woman,” “The Rockford Files,” “Taxi,” “Mad About You” and “NYPD Blue.” He reunited with Downey for “Too Much Sun,” Downey’s 1990 comedy about gays breeding,
I was surprised to learn that between 1941 and 1969, before he starting making a living as a screen actor, Arbus was a New York-based photographer married to another photographer, the famed Diane Arbus. Allan Arbus lived among New York’s Mad Men, shooting local and national advertising campaigns for men like Don Draper.
Arbus’ final role was a great one to end on: Uncle Nathan in the 2000 first-season finale of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
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