Wednesday, April 24, 2013

R.I.P. Allan Arbus

Sorry to hear of the passing of Allan Arbus who played Dr. Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist on MASH. I was surprised to learn he was 95. Weren’t you? He appeared just a few years ago at the TV LAND awards and looked great. I never would have guessed he was in his 90’s then.

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.

David and I wrote the good doctor on several occasions. My favorite episode was called “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?

41 comments:

Andrea said...

I was sorry to hear about this, too. Your tribute was very nice. Dr. Freedman was one of my favorites on MASH. I always thought his episodes were the best.

Joe said...

I always liked the Sydney episodes, Ken. My two favorites that included him were the series finale and the one where the main cast is playing poker in the swamp.

Pat Quinn said...

Ladies and gentlemen take my advice pull down your pants and slide on the ice.

Who wrote that and what do you think it means?

Mike Barer said...

I remember when Sydney went up against Flagg the CIA agent. It was clear who the good guy was. Very good tribute, even thought he was part time, his character was very memorable.

Diogo said...

I always loved the episode "Dear Sigmund" it felt like the previous Dear Dad episodes, but this time a tv character was writing to a real person, and not only that a dead real person. it was fascinating to me that a tv episode would dedicate a half hour to that exercise. Also that he stayed in camp to "take a little vacation" from it all. "you came for the poker game and stayed for two weeks".
he was also one of the few characters that was rarely played for a joke. no matter what went on around him, he just looked and lived around it with that calm voice of his, as if everything was normal. great character great portrayal.
I've also seen him on early Curb your Enthusiasm and on an episode of taxi where he played Tony Banta's boxing trainer.

Anonymous said...

Pat - That was a Gelbart line

*tarazza said...

A lovely tribute.

it never looked like was acting. Everything was natural, effortless, and real.

I think this sums it up nicely.

Ben Bragg said...

Is it true the producers considered making him a full time regular following Gary Burghoff's departure?

Anonymous said...

Ladies and gentlemen,
Take my advice
Pull down your pants
And slide on the ice.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Sidney would have been as effective or memorable had he been made a regular. Dear Sigmund is one of my favorite episodes. I think it probably helped more people than anyone could realize. People saw how the person who seemed unflapable deal with his burden.

Pam aka sosterzip

Scooter Schechtman said...

I liked him in druggy movies like "Cisco Pike" and "Greaser's Palace". But it was on Larry David's program where he got the most hilarious obscene sendoff ever.
"THE OSTEOPATH?!?!?"

Scooter Schechtman said...

I liked him from druggy films like "Cisco Pike" and "Greaser's Palace". But it was on Larry David's show where he got the most hilarious send-off ever:
"THE OSTEOPATH?!?"

Scooter Schechtman said...

I liked him from druggy films like "Cisco Pike" and "Greaser's Palace". But it was on Larry David's show where he got the most hilarious send-off ever:
"THE OSTEOPATH?!?"

Scooter Schechtman said...

I liked him from druggy films like "Cisco Pike" and "Greaser's Palace". But it was on Larry David's show where he got the most hilarious send-off ever:
"THE OSTEOPATH?!?"

Scooter Schechtman said...

Sorry about multiple posts. Too much Cisco last night.

JimK Research said...

Thank you so much for the wonderful tribute to one of my favorite MASH characters. One of my all-time favorite episodes is the one where Dr. Freedman helps Hawkeye get over his sleepwalking.

I never would have guessed he was 95 either, much less in his 90s.

Godspeed, Allan Arbus!

rob! said...

It was always funny to me that Mr. Arbus was closer in age to Harry Morgan than he was to Alda or Farrell, yet the way he played Sidney it seemed like he was a contemporary of the Swamp Rats.

In many ways Sidney was my favorite character on the show, and I always thought he could have supported his own Lou Grant-style hour-long dramatic spin-off.

RIP Mr. Arbus.

mrmusic248 said...

His best line:
"Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice,pull down your pants, And, slide on the ice".

Mac said...

That was a lovely tribute. As you say; 95 years of a life well-lived, and fondly remembered... who could ask for more?

John said...

I was actually looking something up to post a comment here a few months ago when I discovered Arbus was basically the same as as Morgan when they were on MASH. As noted above, that was quite a surprise, since the two looked 15-20 years apart.

Blogger Mike Barer said...

I remember when Sydney went up against Flagg the CIA agent. It was clear who the good guy was. Very good tribute, even thought he was part time, his character was very memorable.

They actually did two episodes with Friedman and Flagg -- the first was Season 2's "Deal Me Out". It's interesting that Edward Winter is fairly restrained here, but as the show's tone got more serious, he became more cartoony over the years.

Winter's also referred to as Capt. Halloran here, but he's CIA and the poker game they were in is mentioned by Arbus the next time the two meet (and as far as the name change, in Arbus' first MASH appearance he's identified as Dr. Milton Friedman when he comes to the camp to evaluate Klinger. It would have made for a far less interesting role if he had spent the next 9 1/2 seasons coming to the 4077 to discuss free-market economics with Hawkeye, Trapper and B.J.).

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I honestly thought this was another hoax: for the past few years or so, there's been a troll at the Best Care Anywhere M*A*S*H fan forum, who will pop up every few months or so, claiming Allan Arbus is dead, and it turned out to be yet another hoax, so when I first heard this news, I was like, "Oh great, yet another hoax"... only to be sorely, SORELY mistaken.

I saw a few scenes from the movie FUR, and I got to tell you, based on what I've seen, that is just about one of THE most freaky-deaky, acid-trippy, creepiest movies I have ever seen.

Michael said...

A terrific tribute to a terrific actor. "Dear Sigmund" was my favorite, and I loved his joy at joining BJ in practical joking.

VincentS said...

I was sorry to hear of his passing too. I envy you that you were able to know and work with him. And I was one of those people who was unafraid to seek help when I needed it because of Mr. Arbus's portrayal on MASH. In Sidney Freedman he projected gentleness and sensitivity as well as strength. No mean feat. It was also great to see him acting against type in VOLUNTEERS. A great actor and a great loss. He will be missed.

Alex N said...

I remember crying when I saw the Billfold ep of MASH when it originally aired on CBS and it still got to me anytime I saw it in syndication thereafter. Saw Arbus one time at a market and went up to tell him how much I liked his work and was blown away by how gentle and unassuming he was.

stormy_daze said...

Thanks for the kind article, Ken.

When I was in my late teens, I was going through a severe depression. M*A*S*H was literally the only thing that could make me laugh.

I wrote to Allan and told him that, he kindly wrote a letter back with an autographed photo. I didn't know him, I've never met him, but he took the time to say very kind words to a sad girl, so he'll always mean a lot to me.

RareWaves said...

Very nice tribute, Ken.

I enjoyed all the episodes in which Allan Arbus appeared, but I fondly recall the two where he played against the late Edward Winter's character (as noted in an earlier comment). The juxtaposition of their personalities and even their names, Freedman vs. Flagg, were very well played.

Jake Mabe said...

"Bless you, Hawkeye" is one of my favorite episodes of "M*A*S*H" in large part because of Sidney's psychoanalysis with Alan Alda's Hawkeye.

Rest in peace, Mr. Arbus.

Donald said...

"If you feel, you heal." --Jessy

Charles Lamb said...

I could swear he said a poem on the show once, something about pants and ice. Does anybody remember it? Anyone?

Jeffrey Mark said...

I just loved Alan Arbus as Sidney...he was just so right-on the money, so even tempered, perfect personality, so easy going and so REAL. The episodes with Sidney and Colonel Flagg were priceless, with Flagg thinking he was smarter than Sidney - those few episodes were perfect. And it was very cool that Hawkeye really respected Sidney. Those episodes are just priceless perfect. RIP Alan.

Charles H. Bryan said...

For some reason, to me, a mark of a good actor is when you think that the person is not an actor but plays that part in real life -- in this case, when I first watched these episodes back in the day, I thought he was a psychologist that was hired to be on the show. (Producer: "Hey, I know who can play this part -- I see him every Tuesday.") I knew Alan Alda wasn't a doctor and I knew Harry Morgan wasn't a military officer, but I was convinced Allan Arbus was a actually a psychologist.

Cap'n Bob said...

Thanks for the remembrance, Ken. Like all of your posters, I was a fan of the Freedman character.

A couple of notes. When I was a kid 60 years ago I heard a little playground ditty that went, "Ladies and gentlemen/take my advice/pull down your britches/and slide on the ice." This was in Virginia, where we wore britches.

Gunsel doesn't meant a guy who carries or uses a gun. It means young homosexual male.

When The Maltese Falcon was being filmed there was a phrase, "on the gooseberry lay," that the studio thought was obscene, so they cut it. But they left in gunsel. On the gooseberry lay means hiding in the bushes to steal clothing off a line. Hammett had a good laugh at that.

Cameron R. said...

The Dr. Freedman character did indeed help dispel the stigma of psychiatry. I was a kid in the 70s, and seeing therapy portrayed so positively in comedies and dramas (Bob Newhart, Woody Allen, MASH) helped me feel comfortable seeking it out when I needed it. I remember when I saw Adam Arkin playing the president's therapist on The West Wing, it reminded me of "Sidney the psychiatrist" on MASH. Thanks for writing this post.

Tim Simmons said...

My favorite re-occurring character ever. My favorite mash episode is where they had the rogue prankster and it turns out to be sidney.

Cap'n Bob said...

Typo alert. Meant should have been mean. Not than anyone's paying attention.

Barry Traylor said...

As has already been stated Dr. Freedman was one of my favorite characters on MASH. I always liked the way he would mildy puzzled and amused when he visited the MASH unit.

Storm said...

Allan Arbus/Sidney Freedman, Richie Havens, and my beloved cat. Dude, this weekend sucked The Big One.

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Cheryl Marks said...

In addition to Sydney, another one of Mr. Arbus' role that I adored was as Danny, the director of the production number in Electric Horseman. His comedic skill and ability was on displayed for a very memorable, albeit short, time on screen.

Cathy said...

What a wonderful tribute! I loved the character.

Ira Hozinsky said...

Several of your correspondents have mentioned that Dr. Freedman made it possible for them to accept becoming psychiatric patients. This article, published two years ago in Psychology Today, establishes that he was inspirational to those at the other end of the couch as well: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/grand-rounds/201109/best-tv-shrink-ever-heres-dr-sidney-freedman

Amelia said...

This is cool!