It was 1960 — or maybe 1956, he couldn’t really recall — when Lester “Les” Waas was let loose in New York City with a 12-inch bell and an order to record a three-minute radio ad for a small ice cream company. As legend goes, he created a lyrical, chime-filled tune in one take and named it “Jingles and Chimes.” The client, a Philadelphia-born, Jersey-based business called Mister Softee, loved it.
Fifty years later, generations of Americans will never be able to get his jingle out of their heads. It became one of the best Pavlovian marketing tools and, consequently, one of the most abhorred pieces of music to a parent’s ears. Countless ice cream trucks blare an endless loop of Waas’s lyric-less tune through summer’s steaming streets, cul-de-sacs, parks and playgrounds, attracting children in swarms and noise complaints in the thousands. The song was almost banned in New York City in 2004 due to a concentrated noise-reduction effort led by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but was saved by Mister Softee’s economic arguments (and a large nostalgic outcry).
Waas was tickled by its longevity. In an interview with Philadelphia’s Broadcast Pioneers in 2015, he could still sing the lyrics:
Here comes Mister Softee
The soft ice cream man.
The creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream,
You get from Mister Softee.
For a refreshing delight supreme
Look for Mister Softee
My milkshakes and my sundaes and my cones are such a treat
Listen for my store on wheels ding-a-ling down the street…
Look for Mister Softee
S-O-F-T double E, Mister Softee.
And that’s just one of more than 970 jingles Waas wrote. His clients included the United States Coast Guard, Ford Motor Company, Holiday Inn —
“That was my favorite, by the way,” Waas said, interrupting his own efforts to list off his past projects. He dove into their catchy tune:
If its a birthdate, anniversary date
or a regular Saturday night date,
make it a Holi-date, celebrate
at — click, click — Holiday Inn.
Waas’s prolific career as advertising executive at Waas, Inc., is even more exceptional when considering one of his other titles: president of the Procrastinators Club of America.
Waas was a prankster, and the club was born out of a joke in 1956 when he and fellow advertising men convinced one of Philadelphia’s largest hotels to put up a sign in front of their ballroom that read “The procrastination’s club meeting has been postponed.”
Local press jumped on the sign, and soon Waas was holding meetings and staging events, including a Fifth of July picnic, peace protests against the War of 1812 and a 1976 trip to the foundry that forged the Liberty Bell to demand a replacement — more than 20 years after the warranty expired and more than 200 years after the bell first cracked.
They celebrate three holidays, including National Procrastination Week and National Be Late For Something Day. The third one?
“And the other one has not been created yet,” Waas said.
During his time as leader of the procrastinators, Waas was also president and then chairman of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia and president of the regional chapters of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and Independence Toastmasters. He was also a veteran of the Army Air Corps, where he served in the Pacific theater during WWII.
Waas died on April 19 in Warminster, Pa., at the age of 94. He lives on, though, in his immortal jingles, thousand-member strong Procrastinators Club, two children and three grandchildren.