Albert Azaria made up goofy names for his kids.
Daughter Elise was “Elastic Rubber Band.’’
Daughter Stephanie was “Daphne du Maurier,’’ an actual 20th century English writer.
Son Hank might be “Octavius,’’ or “Franklin Pangborn,’’ a comic actor during the 1930s and ’40s.
“He had a tremendous sense of silliness [and] a tremendous love for cartoons,’’ Hank Azaria said of his father, who died June 25 at his home in Northeast Miami. He was 86, and succumbed to lung disease.
“He had a lot of physical things, too, like he’d squeeze our heads, which he called a ‘clune.’ My dad on his deathbed was really weak, but he reached over and gave my head one final ‘clune.’ ’’
Hank Azaria, a multiple Emmy winner whose voice credits include “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” “The Smurfs,” and “Happy Feet Two,” figures that his dad’s appreciation of wackiness “might have led to me becoming a character actor... He had an artistic and creative temperament, and he was quiet, but at home he was really silly.’’
And although his son never explicitly based a character on his dad, he always thought of him when he needed a classic New York accent, especially the television producer Albert Freedman in the 1994 film Quiz Show.
Albert Azaria was born March 23, 1927, in Harlem, to Sephardic Jews from Turkey and Greece.
He attended New York’s Needles and Trade High School (later the Central High School of Needle Trades, now High School of Fashion Industries), and, briefly, the Fashion Institute of Technology.
After serving in the U.S. Air Force following World War II, Azaria went to work in New York’s Garment District. His labels included Simon Sez, Sherwood Fashions, Samuel Scott and Al Azaria, Inc.
He designed for “secretaries and housewives in Middle America, and some ‘missy’ and plus sizes,’’ his son said. “He was in the creative side. He could sew like a genius. He was a gifted tailor. He loved making patterns and figuring out the cheapest way to manufacture.
“He really loved knowing how to make a dress...He said to me if you do what you love, you’re never working.’’
Albert Azaria retired against his will when he was 70. The “shmatte’’ business had all but disappeared from the United States, as manufacturers sought cheap labor in the Far East.
The industry’s demise broke his father’s heart, Hank said.
“He said to me I’m lucky I’m an actor because you can work’’ into old age. “If he could, he would have turned back the clock and do it till he died.’’
Albert Azaria and his wife of 62 years, Ruth Altchek Azaria, moved to Miami in the early 1980s. They were regulars at the old Coconut Grove Playhouse, at Bagel Bar East in San Souci, and around South Florida casino poker tables.
Al Azaria adored opera, and was close the late Italian tenor Franco Corelli, whom they invited to one of their daughters’ weddings.
As she departed, Corelli’s wife thanked the Azarias “for not asking Franco to sing,’’ Hank said. “That’s a good example of who he was: very genuine and considerate, and he loved all the arts for art’s sake.’’
Elise Azaria, of California, and Stephanie Azaria, of New Jersey, called their father kind, lighthearted, genuine, warm and real.
Al Azaria was active in Alzheimer’s NOTABLES of Miami Jewish Health System, having seen the disease debilitate his mother-in-law.
Sad as he is to lose his father, Hank plans at least one joke for Friday’s funeral to illustrate how Al Azaria felt most comfortable behind the scenes.
It’s from Jerry Seinfeld, on the subject of public speaking: “Most people at a funeral would rather be in the coffin than delivering the eulogy.”
Services begin at noon Friday at Levitt-Weinstein, 18840 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami Beach. Burial follows at Menorah Gardens, Southwest Ranches. Contributions in his memory may be made to Season’s Hospice 5200 NE Second Ave., Miami, FL 33137.