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Murray Gershenz, record store owner, character actor; at 91

Murray Gershenz held a scarce Beatles “butcher cover” lp in his Los Angeles shop.

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press/file 2009

Murray Gershenz held a scarce Beatles “butcher cover” lp in his Los Angeles shop.

NEW YORK — Call Murray. Call him from Germany. Call him from South America. Surely he will have what you are looking for: Bjorling, Brazilian jazz, early Beach Boys.

For more than 50 years, Murray Gershenz ran a used record store in Los Angeles that was much more than a store. It was an international archive of more than 300,000 records that he loved, or that he hoped one day to hear and was convinced that someone else out there did, too.

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“He told me, ‘If I could listen to every one of these records I would,’ ” his son Irving said.

But some people in Los Angeles take day jobs to finance secret dreams, and Music Man Murray, as both he and his store were called, was one of them. In 1938, when he was 16 and lived in New York, he helped form the Bronx Playgrounds Operetta Club. They sang at the 1939 World’s Fair. When he was nearly 80, he started taking comedy classes in Los Angeles.

His much younger classmates wondered how he made it all look so easy. The dry delivery. The exasperated face. One evening a casting director spotted him, and soon enough he was on “Will & Grace,” playing a character named Uncle Funny.

Mr. Gershenz, who was 91 when he died Aug. 28 in Hollywood, went on to become a familiar and much-loved face in films and on television. Need a cute or cranky grandfather? Call Murray. He appeared in “The Hangover,” “I Love You, Man,” and other films, and had recurring TV roles on “Parks and Recreation,” “The Sarah Silverman Program,” and “The Tonight Show.”

Silverman described him as “natural and effortless.” His genius, many thought, was that he rarely seemed to be acting.

“He was just saying the lines as if it was him,” said his manager, Corey Allen Kotler. “Murray was the character. He didn’t have to act.”’

Mr. Gershenz achieved “offer only” status as an actor, which meant he entertained offers rather than having to audition. He used some of his rising income to keep the record store afloat; even with the recent vinyl revival, business had not been the same since the compact disc arrived in the 1980s.

He started thinking about selling the collection in its entirety. He had valued it once at $3 million but was willing to sell it for half that much. Then he said he would take $500,000, then half of that. Money was one issue, but he also had other things to do.

“I still try to take care of this place,” he said, surrounded by shelves of albums, in a 2011 documentary short by Richard Parks, also called “Music Man Murray,” “but my head is, ‘What’s my next gig?’ ”

Morris Gershenzwit was born in the Bronx. His father, Irving, drove a cab, and his mother, Eileen, made hats.

Morris fell in love with music early and started collecting 78s as a teenager. Classical vocals were his favorite. While still in his teens, he began singing with the operetta club. He used his given name at first but later took a stage name, Marshall Grayson. By his 20s, he was going by Murray Gershenz.

After a brief marriage ended in the mid-1940s, he traveled to Los Angeles and ended up staying. He drove a cab, helped manage a bakery, and enrolled at Hebrew Union College. He also continued to sing, working as a cantor at synagogues in the city and the suburbs.

And he kept collecting records. Prodded by his second wife, the former Bobette Cohen, he opened his store in 1962 on Santa Monica Boulevard. Bobette worked the front desk. He roamed the growing stacks of records. Early on they mostly sold 78s.

“People looked at him, like, ‘Used vinyl?’ ” Irving Gershenz said. “It was unheard of.”

Yet for a long time it worked, and the store grew. They bought warehouse space, then more warehouse space. They moved to another location. The store survived the compact disc. It survived the iPod and MP3s. But eventually Mr. Gershenz decided it was time.

“Every month or so there is somebody who’s interested,” he told The Los Angeles Times last year. “But there’s never anybody who’s really interested. People are biting. But nobody seems to have the money, the place to put them, or knows what in the hell to do with over a quarter-million records.”

Besides his son Irving, Mr. Gershenz leaves another son, Norman; a daughter, Nada Pedraza; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife of more than 40 years died in 1999.

In June, Mr. Gershenz sat at his desk at the store for the last time. He had found a buyer. That month, four tractor-trailer trucks pulled away with the records, heading for New York. Irving Gershenz has not disclosed the buyer or the purchase price but said he expected the collection to stay together.

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