Local advertising legend Les Waas, 94, the man responsible for two of the most recognizable tunes ever heard in Philadelphia - the Mr. Softee jingle and "Everybody Who Knows Goes to Melrose" - died Tuesday, April 19, of pneumonia at Abington Hospice in Warminster.
He was a Philly native and a Philly original. A graduate of Olney High School (Class of 1939), a sheet-metal worker at the Navy Yard, a World War II Army Air Corps pilot, and a world-class prankster, Mr. Waas turned a knack for writing jingles into an enduring legacy.
His beginning was ordinary enough. He went to work at the Navy Yard after graduating from Olney, and enlisted in the Army in 1942. (He flew C-47 transport planes in the Pacific theater.) But after he was discharged in '46, Mr. Waas made a drastic change.
He entered the advertising business. And by the 1950s, despite not having any formal training, he founded his own ad agency, Waas Inc. He produced live commercials for TV and radio personality Sally Starr, and for Dick Clark's American Bandstand when the show was still airing from West Philly.
Working from a studio in his Huntingdon Valley home, Mr. Waas wrote and produced almost 1,000 jingles throughout his long career. His clients included Holiday Inn, the Coast Guard, Acme Markets, and the Phillies, in addition to the Melrose Diner.
He wrote the Mr. Softee jingle, which still plays from ice cream trucks today, in 1960.
One of his clients was A.C. Kissling Co., which had been making sauerkraut in Philadelphia since before the Great Depression, and operated in Fishtown from 1944 to 2013.
"His commercials [for Kissling] became so successful that they canceled the commercials . . . because they couldn't produce the product fast enough. That's very unusual in advertising," said Gerry Wilkinson, Waas' longtime friend and CEO of Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia.
Mr. Waas was a guest lecturer on broadcast advertising at Temple University, and was also known for creating the "number system" used to announce winter school closings on radio and television.
Outside of advertising, Mr. Waas enjoyed cartooning and was a great practical joker.
He performed running gags through TV and radio appearances, playing "Mother's Whistler," an expert whistler who performed birdcalls for made-up rare bird species, and "Congressman Schwerbitz," who was interviewed by Michael Smerconish to discuss a "nose device bill" requiring people to wear devices in their noses to reduce carbon emissions.
Mr. Waas also made TV and radio appearances to promote his organization, the Procrastinators' Club of America, founded in 1956. The club traveled to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London to protest shipping damage to the Liberty Bell, and held a peace march around City Hall during the Vietnam War - to demand an end to the War of 1812.
Shortly after he returned from the war, Mr. Waas met Sylvia Wasserman at a dance in North Philadelphia. She worked for the Bell System and later helped on the business side of his ad agency. They were married in 1951, settled in Huntingdon Valley, and were together until her death in 2004 due to cancer.
He is survived by daughter Sherri Waas Shunfenthal, son Murray, and three grandchildren.
Services were Thursday, April 21, at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks, followed by interment at Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown.