The actor Allan Arbus died a few days ago at the age of 95. He didn't start out as an actor, but instead was a commercial photographer from the end of World War II until about 1970. Now, if "Arbus" and "photography" sound like they should go together, it's because he was married to Diane Arbus, famed for her black-and-white pictures of, as the Library of Congress puts it, "deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers) or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal." But she didn't do any of that until she separated from her husband in 1959. Until then she was a commercial photographer, too, one who found that profession, and possibly her life in general, rather unfullfilling. I just found out a few minutes ago about a 2006 film called Fur, based on Diane's life in the 1950s. Nicole Kidman played her, and Allan was portrayed by Ty Burell. I haven't seen this film (kinda hard to do in a few minutes time), but I gather from some of the IMDb "User Reviews", Allan is shown as being rather conventional, stable, mild-mannered, whereas Diane apparently was not (just peruse the disturbing imagery found in some of her photographs.) The couple finally divorced in 1969, and Diane committed suicide two years later.
I don't know what effect the dissolution of his marriage and his ex-wife's subsequent death had on him, but conventional, stable, mild-mannered Allan Arbus decided around this time to enter that most unconventional, most unstable, most unmannered of professions: acting. While Arbus never became a star, he seems to have worked steadily enough. He first had small parts in such 1970s films as Greaser's Palace and Cinderella Liberty, played director Gregory La Cava in W.C. Fields and Me, but was best known as psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freeman on the TV show MASH.
MASH, based on an earlier hit movie and comic novel, concerned a U.S. Army hospital unit during the Korean War. The doctors and nurses working in such a place in real life would have witnessed more disturbing imagery in ten minutes in OR than could be found in 50 rolls of Diane Arbus film, something that could only be hinted at in a 1970s sitcom. More broadly revealed, however, was the way these health professionals dealt with the stress of that situation, with wisecracks, practical jokes, and hard partying. As only an occasional visitor to the 4077th (12 appearances in 11 seasons), Sidney Freeman marveled at the way the more permanent residents (until their hitches were up) could hold fast to their humanity with good humor in such a hellish environment. But he also realized that while humor may be the best medicine, it can run out, and that's where he came in. The mild-mannered qualities that, if the IMDb User Reviews are to be believed, failed Allen in his marriage, were just right for Dr. Sidney when healing doctors and patients alike once the laughs died down:
!!!WARNING!!! You may find the imagery in the below clip very disturbing:
If it makes you feel any better, I think they got that baby from the props department. At least, I hope they got it from the props department.
He just did quality work.
You can read more about Allan Arbus here.