When You Get Les… You Get More!
by Cate Murway
In honor of International Procrastination Week, celebrated somewhere in the beginning of March depending upon how much it is put off, veteran Army 1st Lt. Lester Morton Waas, the greatest procrastinator in all human history, is in the “Spotlight”.
He is the founder of the Procrastinators Club of America that celebrates Christmas in July. The club boasts thousands of members, with an alleged additional membership of millions who are about to sign up any day now.
"It's never too late to look backward.” Their slogan is “We’re behind you all the way!”
Les is also the “lone arranger”/writer/devisor of the most well-known advertising jingles ever.
A most humble gentleman, he routinely and unobtrusively enjoys his breakfast and the company of the many friends he has made at Daddypops Diner in Hatboro. “The first thing they bring me is a ketchup bottle to prop up my comics. They know what juice I want and that I want grits with my eggs.”
Les was born two weeks late in Jefferson Hospital to WWI Army veteran, 1st Technical Sgt. Lester Leonard and Alice B. [Maybaum] Waas. Sgt. Waas served in France and distributed military uniforms. Les’ father and his grandfather, Leonard Abraham Waas [family tradition was that the middle names were those of the grandfather] were the proprietors of Waas & Son on 123 S. 11th Street, the family costume business that lasted 100 years. At that time, there was no radio or television, only theatres. They even outfitted the Mummers!
His mother taught at the Philadelphia Girls’ Normal School. He and his sister, Bette had the opportunity to attend the Logan Demonstration School and Les graduated from Olney HS in 1939, majoring in art.
As a youth, he sold $.05 magazines to the passengers getting off the trolley cars on 67th & Broad Streets, earning money for red licorice twists and Tastykake treats. Gas was a nickel a gallon and their widowed grandfather lived with them.
The costume business went into bankruptcy and they lost their home during the Depression. “We had oil heat, one of the few homes, but we disconnected the heater and we used coal. I would go around on trash day and pluck out unused pieces of coal from people’s trash.”
Food was at a premium. “We ate whatever was cheapest during the depression. Anything was ok to eat, as long as we didn’t starve.”
Les’ father worked delivering for the Jawer Auto Supply Company and his mother accompanied him.
Les still drove the family 1936 Chevrolet to school. It was $07.5 cents for the trolley one way and gasoline was cheaper.
Les took courses in sheet metal work at the Navy Yard and “made big bucks, $3.00 or $4.00 an hour”.
He was made to work overtime and earned time and a ½ on weekends. He attempted to enlist in the Army but was “turned down”. He had an essential position, they said.
“I have to be the worst. No one could do anything on purpose as poorly as I could. I made flanges.”
He was determined and the recruiters finally relented. “They were only taking college graduates but I wanted to be a pilot.” He was given a college equivalency test and reported to the Army Air Corps in Cleveland OH and was taught to fly at Western Reserve, now called Case Western Reserve University. He flew a double winged C-47/ DC3 airplane, a Stearman. “I loved flying so much. There are still thousands of them flying.” Les served in the Pacific Theatre from 1942 until September 11, 1946. Decorations and citations included "American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and Philippine Liberation". Les served nine additional years in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
“The roughest time I had in the service was losing my friends.”
When he returned, he tried his hand at art again since he had once done artwork for his father’s catalogues. “I was almost as bad in artwork as I was in making flanges.”
His social life included dances, so he took a trolley to Broad & Wood Street and that is where he met Sylvia Wasserman, a graduate of Girls’ High, who worked for AT&T.
“I looked at her, watched her manner and she was so pretty. I’m going to marry a girl like that.”
He was wearing his officer’s uniform “with the wings and everything” but he thought he was a pretty bad dancer. “We were both pretty bad, but together, we were ok.”
They dated for several months and he worked up the nerve to ask her, “Would you like to get married?” She said “To who?”
Sylvia shortened her name from Wasserman to Waas and they were married in 1951, for 56 years. “Everyone who met her fell in love with her. She charmed everybody.”
Les and Sylvia moved to the historic Mayfair House on Lincoln Drive and then to a very classy Lynnewood Gardens efficiency on Washington Lane for $73.00 a month.
His Waas, Inc. art studio was in Philadelphia and Les created ads and layouts for the Daily News. Suddenly one client needed more advertising space, explaining, “The singer and the comedian are working together now.”
Les wrote the ad for crooner Dean Martin and the comedic "foil", Jerry Lewis in Skinny D'Amato’s Atlantic City’s 500 Club.
He stopped into the Philco station every once in awhile [Channel 3 now] and had the opportunity to produce live commercials for the advertising agencies, like “Cheerios and Clearasil” for “American Bandstand”. Some girls came in from W. Philly High and asked to watch the show. The teenagers were all excited and started dancing.
It took off from there and they were looking for a new host.
WFIL General Manager, Roger Clipp’s closet friends were Richard Augustus and Julia Barnard Clark from Utica and their son was the soon-to-be-legend, Richard Wagstaff “Dick” Clark. They give him a shot.
“He was too young to be doing it, but he related to the kids!”
In his school’s yearbook, Dick Clark was selected as “The Man Most Likely to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Les by that time was in charge of the commercials, and he was asked if he could write jingles.
Of course, he said “sure!”
He used the Big Band era melody from "Give Me a Little Kiss, Will Ya, Huh? for the Kissling sauerkraut advertisement. Les has written and produced 973 jingles for such advertisers as Esslinger’s Beer, the “creamiest, dreamiest soft ice cream” for Mister Softee [in NYC, the trucks could only play the jingle while moving, to reduce noise], Holiday Inn, U.S. Coast Guard, Kiddie City, Acme Markets, Genuardi Super Markets, Breyer's, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Department of Virginia Tourism and the longest-continuously-running jingle in advertising, the Melrose Diner.
He paid $5.00 for a commercial not on primetime on the KYW radio station and “Everybody who knows, goes to Melrose” started in 1956. It became the most popular jingle in history for over 35 years.
Les made a cold call in historic Bristol on the Delaware. He syndicated advertisements for E. Charles Plachter, “the low profile dealer”, owner of Charles Oldsmobile and Cadillac on Green Lane, as well as for his brother, Bill’s dealership on Frankford & Penn Street, the only Cadillac dealership in Philadelphia.
He has also written 22 published/recorded songs. Two of them became the official themes of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team.
The Waas children attended the J.H. Brown School in NE Philadelphia.
Virginia resident Sherri [Waas] Shunfenthal [husband, Michael] is a free-lance writer/poet and the author of “Journey Into Healing” and “Sacred Voices: Women of Genesis Speak”.
Washington, D.C. resident, Murray Waas, is a freelance investigative journalist. In 1993, he was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, for documenting the clandestine effort of the U.S. government to supply money and weapons to Iraq in the 1980's and up to the weeks before the Gulf War. Among other awards, Murray also received the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Investigative Reporting Prize in 2011. Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz nicknamed him "The Lone Ranger".
Les and Sylvia’s three grandchildren are twins, Jennifer and David, and Daniel. “They all graduated with honors, from different Virginia colleges.”
Sylvia died on November 2, 2006.
Les successfully ran his own advertising agency for 46 years and served as president for his regional chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Independence Toastmasters, and the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia and he continues with the Broadcast Pioneers to secure scholarships for aspiring broadcast/announcer students. He was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia "Hall of Fame" on Friday, November 18, 2005.
He has appeared on innumerable national and local TV programs, including Prime Time Live, David Letterman, The Today Show, To Tell the Truth, Mike Douglas, Maury Povich, and Tom Snyder.
Les even played a priest in one small scene in the movie, “Blow Out”, starring John Travolta.
As Les Waas puts it, "The art of procrastination is such that if you take a step back and look at the things to do, you see there are priorities."
He has a long history of accomplishments and “my mind is still active as far as ideas are concerned.”
Recommend a “Spotlight”. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
WAAS, LES, 94, on April 19, 2016. Husband of the late Sylvia (nee Wasserman), father of Sherri (Michael) Shunfenthal and Murray S. Waas. Brother of Helen Betty Klein, grandfather of Jennifer, David, and Daniel Shunfenthal. Relatives and friends are invited to Funeral Services Thursday 1 P.M. precisely at GOLDSTEINS' ROSENBERG'S RAPHAEL SACKS SUBURBAN NORTH, 310 Second St. Pike, Southampton. Interment Montefiore Cemetery. Shiva will be observed immediately following interment, at the late residence. Contributions in his memory may be made to Chabad of Northern Virigina, Cong. Adat Reyim, or to The Inglis House. .
Les Waas, legend in advertising, known for jingles
The New York Times today paid tribute to Lester Waas, the Philadelphia ad man who composed the Mister Softee jingle that the newspaper said became "a totem of American popular culture — revered, reviled, featured on television and in film, and noted as the subject of a high-profile civic battle in early-21st-century New York."
This is how Margalit Fox, obituary writer par excellence, opens her tribute to Waas:
"It was born in Philadelphia but is as much a part of New York’s aural landscape as taxi horns, 'that heavenly coffee' and 'watch the closing doors.'
"An annual herald of summer for more than half a century, it is exquisitely Pavlovian, triggering salivation or shrieking — sometimes both at once. It is the textbook embodiment of an earworm: once heard, never forgotten.
"It is the Mister Softee jingle, which for generations has sprung from ice cream trucks throughout the metropolitan area and beyond after first springing from the mind of Les Waas, a Philadelphia adman who died on April 19 at 94."
In Philadelphia, Waas was known for other jingles, including "Everybody Who Knows Goes to Melrose," and as founder of the Procrastinators Club, which held a peace march in 1966 to call for the end of the War of 1812.
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.
Donations can be made to Congregation Adat Reyim at www.adatreyim.org, or Inglis House at www.inglis.org.