The death of religious leader Edgar Magnin, the rabbi to the stars who prayed with American presidents and buried the famous, was mourned Wednesday by the celebrities whose lives he touched.
During his 69-year tenure with the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Magnin became to clergyman most closly associated with motion picture and television celebrities, officiating at marriages, funerals and testimonial events.
Magnin, 94, died of natural causes Tuesday at his Beverly Hills home, not far from the Hillcrest Country Club, his favorite hangout.
"He was a wonderful man and a good golfer," Milton Berle said. "I knew him for more than 50 years. He had a wonderful sense of humor and could trade jokes with all the comedians during lunch at the club."
Berle recalled that Magnin referred to him, George Jessel, George Burns and other show business greats as "my boys."
Burns said, "I knew Edgar well, but I never danced with him."
Among the many marriages he performed were the wedding rites of Norma Shearer and movie tycoon Irving Thalberg. He also read the kaddish, the Jewish prayers for the dead, at Thalberg's funeral.
Magnin also performed funeral ceremonies for such movie moguls as Adolph Zucker and Harry Cohn, along with the final rites for Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny and Jessel.
"He was part of the Hollywood scene," Berle said. "He recited invocations for hundreds of testimonial dinners and at industry functions. He was on the dias for my 75th birthday party at the Friar's club."
Magnin participated in the inaugural ceremonies of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan. He was also a close friend of Bob Hope's and frequently participated in banquets given in Hope's honor.
Magnin wrote a newspaper column for a time expounding the tenets of Judaism, he also had a radio program and lectured at local universities. He was a Hebrew scholar who received honorary degrees from the University of Southern California, Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount among others.
He was active in Los Angeles civic affairs and a charter board member of the Hollywood Bowl.
The patriarch of the Southern California Jewish community, Magnin was the best known rabbi in the world's third largest Jewish community. He was a member of more than 20 boards of directors and advisory councils.
He liked to say he fought anti-Semitism not by confrontation, but by making friends.
Magnin was born July 1, 1890 in San Francisco to conservative Jewish parents who were part of the Magnin family that founded the department store chain.
Shortly before he died Magnin told an interviewer, "God has been good to me. I've been very fortunate in the choice of my ancestors and the choice of my friends."
Magnin is survived by Evelyn, his wife of 68 years; a son, Henry, a daughter, Mae Brussell, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A funeral was planned Friday at the Wilshire Boulevard Temple.