RIP Allen Arbus/Dr. Sydney Freedman – Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.
Allan Arbus died this week at the age of 95. He was an excellent actor and known by most for his role on MASH as Major Sidney Freedman, an Army psychiatrist.
I am a fan of MASH and would place it in any Top Ten list of best TV shows. Others disagree of course. My father, a Korean War veteran, hated the show. Just hated it. He insisted the Scooby Doo cartoons I watched were more realistic.
On a whim I got on International Movie Data Base and looked at the episodes Allan Arbus was on. Twelve. Only twelve episodes. Hard to believe. I went down the list and looked at the episode descriptions. “Oh, I loved that one.” “That’s one of my favorites.” …and on and on.
All twelve shows were excellent. Was it luck? Was Allan Arbus that great an actor that the shows in which he appeared rose above the others? Were the writers so inspired by the actor and character the shows were synergistically better than any others? I suspect it is a little of each.
Here were his twelve episodes:
Radar’s Report, Season 2: Dr. Freedman goes to the 4077 to evaluate Klinger and to decide if he should be discharged. It includes the immortal line, “So, what’s your name, honey?”
Deal Me Out, Season 2: This is the legendary episode featuring a never-ending poker game. It features John Ritter as a shell shocked soldier, Pat Morita as Captain Pak, the character Whiplash Wang and the debut of Colonel Flagg. This is my favorite episode of MASH.
O.R., Season 3: Another poker game interrupted by heavy casualties. This was the episode featuring Dr. Freedman’s famous line repeated on the series finale, “Ladies and gentlemen, take my advice, pull down your pants and slide on the ice.”
Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?, Season 4: another Top Ten individual episode. A wounded soldier thinks he’s Jesus Christ. It’s the episode in which we learn Radar’s first name and one of the few shows with no laugh track. And again Freedman clashes wits – so to speak – with Colonel Flagg. Flagg appeared in seven MASH episodes. All of which are in my Top Seven MASH episodes … hee hee …
Dear Sigmund, Season 5: MASH was good at epistolary episodes – shows narrated by someone while writing in a letter. A staple in fiction, I think MASHwas the first TV show to do it regularly. Here, the narrator/letter-writer was Freedman, writing a “Lincoln Letter” to Sigmund Freud (as opposed to an actual letter to Sigmund Freud…) as a catharsis from his depression. This is the episode that reveals BJ as a practical joker.
Hawk’s Nightmare, Season 5: Hawkeye is having night terrors and walking and playing basketball in his sleep.
War of Nerves, Season 6: An injured Freedman is sent to the 4077th to treat his minor head wound. Morale is especially bad at the camp and Potter asks Freedman to help.
The Billfold Syndrome, Season 7: A soldier is sent to the 4077th with a loss of memory. Freedman and the MASH crew re-enact the soldier’s last battle. In it, his little brother is killed, hence the memory loss. Very sad ending – I think some of tears from the cast members were real. A great episode.
Goodbye, Cruel World, Season 8: another favorite of mine. An Asian-American war hero tries to commit suicide. Why?
Bless You, Hawkeye, Season 9: Hawkeye can’t stop sneezing.
Pressure Points, Season 10: Potter calls in Freedman to see a special patient – Colonel Potter.
Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen, Season 11. The last show. Sydney helps Hawkeye get back to the 4077th after a mental meltdown. The finale has its problems, but Arbus was excellent in it.
I would like to quote artist/illustrator Stephen Bissette’s Facebook post to tell us about Arbus’ other work:
“R.I.P. Allan Arbus, who I first “met” onscreen playing Mr. Bad News in Robert Downey’s incredible PUTNEY SWOPE (1969) and “Jesse” (aka Jesus Christ) in Downey’s even-more-incredible GREASER’S PALACE (1972), with “the boogie in my fingers/the hubba-hubba in my soul,” and he was forever in my heart thereafter. He was on the drive-in screens in VT in my youth: Sim Valensi in CISCO PIKE (1972), Arturo in Jack Hill’s COFFY (1973), Greg LaCava in W.C. FIELDS AND ME (1976), and once I was at the Kubert School, he was the corporate visionary (Pasarian) who explained to us all, in one succinct blink-or-sneeze-and-you’d-miss-it bit of dialogue, precisely what and where real-world Monsanto was heading in DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978): corporate control of the world’s food supply. From Christ to serving the Anti-Christ, Arbus did it all BEFORE his plethora of TV character roles made him a fixture in the pop pantheon.”
Any applicable copyright to the preceding paragraph is owned by Stephen Bissette.
Reprinted here with permission of the author.
You can follow his blog posts here: http://srbissette.com
He died at age 95. This means through most of MASHhe was in his late fifties and sixty-six when the show ended. Incredible. He lived a long life, had a distinguished career of which anyone would be proud, and (from what I have read) was a very nice man.
Rest in Peace, Mr.Arbus, and thank you for your twelve wonderful episodes.