To art aficionados, Allan Arbus may be primarily known as the former husband of legendary photographer Diane Arbus. But for avid television and film viewers, he is regarded as a prolific actor, best known for his recurring role on the beloved Korean War-set series "M*A*S*H*" (CBS, 1972-1983). Originally a photographer who collaborated with his wife, Arbus made an abrupt career shift to acting after their divorce. Working with writer/director Robert Downey, Sr., most notably in the lead role of the outlandish comedy "Greaser's Palace" (1972), Arbus went on to a slew of TV and film parts, making his biggest marks on "M*A*S*H*" and in supporting roles in the Blaxploitation movie "Coffy" (1973) and the drama "The Electric Horseman" (1979). He continued to act, mainly on the small screen, into his 80s, retiring in 2000. After a busy and eclectic career, Arbus died in 2013.
Allan Arbus was born in New York City and developed an interest in the arts at a young age. While attending DeWitt Clinton High School, Arbus became enamored of acting, but he later pursued visual arts, serving in the United States Army as a photographer. He subsequently started a photography business with his wife, Diane, and the two specialized in fashion and advertising photos that ended up in the pages of many popular magazines. As the Arbus' marriage began to fray, Diane focused on more artistic work and Allan slowly lost interest in the field. Once the couple divorced in 1969, Arbus dove headlong into acting, snagging his first notable screen role as Mr. Bad News in Robert Downey, Sr.'s biting cult comedy "Putney Swope" (1969).
The lanky, curly-haired Arbus was far from leading-man material, but that didn't stop Downey, Sr. from casting him as the charismatic Jesus-like main character in the quirky Western "Greaser's Palace." Soon thereafter, Arbus made his first appearance as quippy psychiatrist Major Sidney Freedman on the hit comedy "M*A*S*H*," and he reprised his part roughly once a year for the next decade. Revealing a restless taste in roles, Arbus went on to memorable supporting turns in the Pam Grier crime flick "Coffy" and the made-for-TV horror movie "Scream, Pretty Peggy" (1973), which also featured an elderly Bette Davis. Sticking largely to television, Arbus was an inescapable guest star during the 1970s, showing up on everything from "Wonder Woman" (ABC/CBS, 1975-79) to "The Rockford Files" (NBC, 1974-1980).
After signing on to the ill-fated sitcom "Working Stiffs" (CBS, 1979), starring Michael Keaton and James Belushi, Arbus had a small supporting role in "The Electric Horseman," a hit romantic drama featuring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. During the subsequent decades, Arbus became a fixture on the one-off TV-spot circuit, popping up in episodes of various sitcoms and procedural dramas alike, while still making time for occasional films, including his supporting part in the Tom Hanks/John Candy comedy "Volunteers" (1985). By the end of the 1990s, Arbus was ready to retire and made one final television appearance on an early episode of Larry David's biting comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (2000- ). Arbus spent his retirement years with his second wife, actress Mariclare Costello, and died at the age of 95 in 2013, with his peers remembering his unfailingly amiable nature.