Madison Arnold

On this date in 1936, character actor Madison Arnold, who had roles in plays, films and television, was born in Allentown, Pa. Arnold graduated from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, NY, and Brooklyn College. He earned a master’s in European history from Columbia University and received scholarships to study abroad in Vienna and Berlin, where he did two years of postgraduate work in history, philosophy and languages.

Arnold, named after James Madison as a tribute to religious freedom in America, said in Freethought Today (March 1989): “I had a Jewish family background and have been an atheist as long as I can remember.” He and his brother refused to be bar-mitzvah’ed. Later, serving in Germany in the U.S. Army’s Second Armored Division, he was confronted with dog-tag preferences that provided no option for “atheist.”

Though he is best known for his television work, some film titles include “Escape from Alcatraz” (1979), “Xanadu” (1980), “The Lonely Guy” (1984), “Presumed Innocent” (1990), “The Turning” (1992), “White Lies” (1996), “Donnie Brasco” (1997), “Gracie” (2007) and “Monogamy” (2010). Some of his many television credits include: “Serpico” (1976), “Kojak” (1976-1978), “Baretta” (1978), “The Bionic Woman” (1977-1978), “Starsky and Hutch” (1976-1978), “Barney Miller” (1980), “Whiz Kids” (1980), “Hill Street Blues” (1985-1986), “Law & Order” (1999-2009), “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” (2000-04) and “The Big C” (2010).

Most recently as of this writing, he appeared in three episodes of “The Village” series in 2019 on NBC.

Arnold, who has described himself as a “militant atheist” and even an “atheist of the hostile sect,” says there was never a time when he was not an atheist. “As a kid I looked up and saw no god and I wondered where ‘he’ got such a large notebook to write down X’s when I am bad, as I was told he did.” (Freethought Today, March 1989)

PHOTO: Courtesy of Madison Arnold

Freedom From Religion Foundation