Allan Arbus (1918-2013)

Allan Arbus, whose portrayal of psychiatrist Sidney Freedman made him an honorary member of the main cast of M*A*S*H despite only appearing in 12 episodes, passed away on Friday (April 19th) at the age of 95. Arbus made his first appearance in the Season Two episode “Radar’s Report,” where his character was named Milton. Asked to give a Section 8 evaluation of Klinger, Freedman determines he’s a transvestite and a homosexual, a diagnosis Klinger refuses to sign off on.

Allan Arbus in Radar's Report (1973)
Allan Arbus in “Radar’s Report” (1973)

In his next appearance (“Deal Me Out”), the character had been renamed Sidney and was friendly enough with members of the 4077th to be invited to a poker game with Hawkeye, Trapper, Henry, Klinger and Captain Pak (played by Pat Morita). He helped talk down a violent patient (played by John Ritter). His third appearance (“O.R.”) saw him deliver the famous line “Ladies and Gentlemen, take my advice: pull down your pants, and slide on the ice.”

The Season Five episode “Dear Sigmund,” one of two Arbus appeared in that season, was a “letter episode” in which Sidney wrote to Sigmund Freud in an attempt to work through some professional difficulties. It was a showcase for Arbus, allowing him to step to the forefront. A number of times over the course of the series Sidney was brought in to help Hawkeye deal with some deep emotional issues: “Hawk’s Nightmare,” “Bless You Hawkeye” and of course “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.”

With the exception of Season One, Arbus made at least one appearance per season. Here’s a complete list of the episodes he appeared in:

“Radar’s Report” (02×03, September 29th, 1973)
“Deal Me Out” (02×13, December 8th, 1973)
“O.R.” (03×05, October 8th, 1974)
“Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler” (04×09, November 7th, 1975)
“Dear Sigmund” (05×07, November 9th, 1976)
“Hawk’s Nightmare” (05×13, December 21st, 1976)
“War of Nerves” (06×04, October 11th, 1977)
“The Billfold Syndrome” (07×05, October 16th, 1978)
“Goodbye, Cruel World” (08×21, February 11th, 1980)
“Bless You Hawkeye” (09×17, March 16th, 1981)
“Pressure Points” (10×15, February 15th, 1982)
“Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” (11×16, February 28th, 1983)

Arbus came to acting late in life. According to the Internet Movie Database, aside from an uncredited role in a 1961 film, his first acting credits came in 1969 when he was 51. Prior to acting, Arbus was a photographer. Some of his early acting. After M*A*S*H ended, Arbus co-starred in a CBS sitcom called The Four Seasons, created by Alan Alda, that lasted just 13 episodes (you read more about the show at Television Obscurities).

Allan Arbus, from the M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special
Allan Arbus, from the M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special

His last acting role was a December 2000 episode of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. In May 2002, Arbus joined the surviving cast and producers for the “M*A*S*H 30th Anniversary Reunion Special” broadcast on FOX. He was one of a number of M*A*S*H veterans on hand to collect the Impact Award for M*A*S*H at the Seventh Annual TV Land Awards in April 2009.

Obituaries can be found at The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Variety.

15 Comments

  • I honestly was skeptical about this at first, because I know there’s been a troll over at the BCA forums who pops up every few months for the past couple of years or so to say he died when he didn’t, so it’s sad that it had to happen for real this time. 😐

  • TWoods says:

    Yes, very sad for sure. He was my favorite non-regular character, no doubt about that.

  • Did anyone ever see the biopic about Arbus’ photographer wife, Diane, starring Nicole Kidman? That is seriously one of THE most freaky-deaky, acid-trippy, creepiest movies I have ever seen… granted, I didn’t see it in its entirety, but that that I HAVE seen of it was just… oy…

  • David G. says:

    Sidney — minus Arbus — had a sort-of-but-not-really final “appearance” in a 2nd season “AfterMASH” episode called “Dear Sidney”, in which Sherman Potter is writing a letter to him but we never see Sid. Potter mentions that Sidney had taken a job at some college back in the northeast (…can’t remember the specifics).

    I know Sidney was also mentioned in a few other “M*A*S*H” episodes in which he didn’t actually appear. Anyone want to try contributing to a list of those?

    • RJ says:

      David, I have a vague memory of Potter also writing a letter to Sidney in the series premiere of AfterMASH.

      • David G. says:

        Nope, Potter’s letter in the debut episode was to Klinger. You can watch that one on YouTube, as many have. The “Dear Sidney” episode from the 2nd season was the one, sole consistently really good episode of the 2nd season. The Col. Flagg episode was even better, but lost points for a really pointless and unentertaining B story that took away from the time that could’ve been devoted to Flagg. Okay, I’m getting off topic here….

        Interesting to do the math and realize that Sidney only appeared in about 5 percent of the entire “M*A*S*H” series.

  • Pinkpagoda says:

    There was the one where Hawkeye had the patient who couldn’t move – and Sidney “appeared” via telephone only – he instructed Hawkeye what to do. Frank’s famous line “Margaret… I was wrong!”. Can’t remember the name of the episode.

  • Jon says:

    “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advise. Pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”

  • chuckles says:

    RIP Allan!

  • 5 O'Clock Charlie says:

    Loved the “Dear Sigmund” episode.

  • Vlad says:

    His appearences have always been added-value to the show. There was a unique feeling for the episodes Arbus stared in, something you could have never got else. Rest In Peace!

  • Marjorie Gera says:

    I loved alan arbus. If not for him sidny would have been nothing! 95 wow. U deserve the rest alan but will be missed

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