Wednesday, April 24, 2013
R.I.P. Allan Arbus
I worked with Allan on two projects. MASH certainly, but did you know he was also in the movie David Isaacs and I wrote – VOLUNTEERS? He plays an Italian bookie who was intimidating enough that the Tom Hanks character fled to the Peace Corps in Thailand to avoid welching on his gambling debt.
Off camera, Allan was very much like the on-screen Army shrink he portrayed on MASH. In fact, Alan Alda originally thought he was a shrink. He was warm and understated. You just liked him. Everyone did.
The Dr. Freedman character was a great addition to the dynamic of MASH. Here was the lone voice of sanity and calm in the midst of all this craziness. You’ll notice that everybody on MASH speaks in a very rapid cadence. One-liners come flying at you from every direction. But Dr. Freedman spoke slowly. He settled everybody down. He kept things in perspective. And we could do the zaniest things but the episodes were always grounded if Dr. Freedman was in them.
“The Billfold Syndrome.” A patient came into the 4077th with amnesia and Dr. Freedman, with help from Hawkeye and B.J., hypnotize him and recreate the battle that caused the trauma. Even though this story came from a real life incident and David and I did extensive research to make sure the procedure was accurate, this could have become a real hokey show. But Allan’s credibility and commitment made the episode work perfectly.
Allan Arbus lived a fascinating life. He was married to the famous photographer, Diane Arbus. Books and even a movie, FUR, have been devoted to her story. (How bizarre that a different actor would play Allan. It was MODERN FAMILY'S Ty Burrell, by the way.) But Allan was also a highly renowned photographer and then re-invented himself as an actor. The beauty of his acting was that it never looked like was acting. Everything was natural, effortless, and real. Even when he played an Italian gunsel.
I am honored to have known and worked with him. I wonder how many troubled people who were skittish of psychiatrists sought the help they needed because of the role model set by Allan Arbus. I suspect many. And thanks to reruns, Allan will probably continue to help others long after his death. You can’t ask for more than 95 years and that, can you?