Lester (“Lee”) Waas (May 18, 1921-April 19, 2016) wrote one of the world’s most annoying jingles. So he's "saluted" here. (You were expecting a sniveling end-of-the-world post on the demise of Prince, the world's greatest entertainer? Or one on David Bowie, whose death had previously been declared the end of the world??)
Routinely called a Pavlovian mind-control stunt, a pernicious earworm, and a pain in the ass, the Mister Softee music (with or without words) is embedded into the brains of many, many people who resent it, and would never EVER buy one of these unhealthy, fatty, sugary desserts even if they were starving.
The TV commercials (featuring happy idiots singing the lyrics) were bad enough, but the jingle itself was absolute torture. It was unavoidable on many a hot summer night as the ice cream truck, parked on the street for an hour, would repeat the music box theme OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER and OVER. Easily heard a mile away, the Pied Piper tune instantly had the neighborhood rodents screaming at Mommy for money, and then marching out to ze truck. They lined up, wide-eyed and sweaty, to get their sugar rushes from turd-shaped soft ice cream cones and grotesque plastic platters of banana splits and various blobs of glop.
I vividly remember in the 70’s, living in a cruddy area where there wasn’t a store for several blocks, and none open in the evening. It was just the vulnerable area for a Mister Softee truck. Like a Great White Shark looming out of dark water, the big white truck emerged from the humid, misty darkness, its presence foretold by the LOUD and PERSISTENT melody searing the quiet of the night.
Looming into view very slowwwwly, that jingle was more persistent than a ringing phone, audible over a conversation, music or the TV. From six-story walk-up tenements to dilapidated private houses, ferociously hungry brats, not sated by a fridge full of Breyer's and Sealtest ice cream pints would seethe into the street, chittering and squealing while the tune kept playing AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN.
Even if you LIKED that sickening junk food, unless you were under 14 (along with your IQ) you had to resent the intrusion of Mister Softee and that aggravating audio version of a smiley-face coming into your life and staying for an HOUR or more, several times a day. One could get very phobic about when it would ruin your concentration. It was especially tormenting at night; you’re home from work and want to relax and here’s that naggy naggy naggy tune OVER and OVER, AGAIN and AGAIN.
Like telemarketers calling five times a day, this invasion of privacy was considered just fine: “Wuddya complainin’ fer? Dey do a soivice. Ya got hunreds a guysss who’re makin’ a livin’ fer dere fambalees. Quit kickin’.”
Thanks to new technology, Mister Softee trucks were able to pollute the air by amplifying a simple music box. By the 70’s and 80’s, the music boxes were replaced by taped versions which were WORSE. The machines would overheat in the hot, humid air, and the jingle would repeat with a skip, or the last notes would speed up, or the tune would echo with a hoarse whine. It was worse than Chinese water torture with a drippy drain, since this monotony was now fiendishly altered into a disturbing, unnatural cadence. OVER AND OVER AND OVER.
For years, the only revenge was making jokes about a Mister Softee employee’s erectile dysfunction.
Started in Philadelphia in 1956, the trucks annexed more and more cities and states, conquering towns as far south as redneck-loaded meth-addled Florida. Der Softees franchised over 600 trucks during their prime reign of terror in the 60's and 70's. Maybe they were not as big as Good Humor and their old-fashioned ice cream cones (comedian Jack Carson starred in a movie called “The Good Humor Man” in 1950) but this icy bunch became the most notorious hell on wheels.
(Dis-honorable mention goes to Carvel, a soft ice cream chain of stores that offered the worst non-singing commercials in the world. Senile, raspy-voiced marble-mouthed Tom Carvel nattered about “Fudgie the Whale” with all the charm of a child molester tickling a child under its chin.)
What about rules against noise pollution? Sorry, but in most places there were NO ordinances against this torture. After all, politicians didn’t want to pass a law that would hurt THEMSELVES: around election time, many employed a truck that blared a jingle or had a barker use an amplified loudspeaker to tell the citizens to VOTE VOTE VOTE.
Today, urban sprawl means it’s easier to get ice cream and other fixes of sugar and fat via fast food joints and bodegas open all night. Mister Softee trucks, like Fuller Brush sales people going door to door, are almost obsolete except in rural areas, or lousy neighborhoods where store owners risk their lives staying open. In New York City ten years ago, Mayor Bloomberg ordered the trucks to cease and desist with the “music.” Even so, in poor areas of Brooklyn or Queens, the scofflaw trucks keep right on blasting the tune.
To this day, there are plenty of obese morons who smile the minute they hear the jingle, consider it cute, and have coconut skulls so dense they don’t mind if the truck parks and plays that tune OVER and OVER while others, suffering in the smothering humidity, have to shut the window to keep their sanity.
The man who inflicted all this torture? Lee Waas had been a pilot in the Air Force during World War II. After several odd jobs, he decided he could be an ad man, and set up his own agency. If a client wanted snappy copy, he could provide it. A slogan? Sure. A singing commercial? Well, why not! Waas came up with hundreds of jingles for use on radio and TV that nobody remembers. He was proud that the Mister Softee song became iconic, whether sung in TV commercials or used in music box form. You get samples of both, below.
Waas (who married a woman named Wasserman) tried to parlay his Mister Softee fame and fortune by shoe-horning his way into other areas of pop culture. In the mid 60’s he called attention to himself as the President of “The Procrastinators’ Club of America.” In one hilarious stunt, he and his followers marched through the streets of Philadelphia protesting the war…of 1812. Ha ha, they took so long, the war was already over, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Oh, ha ha ha ha. Ho ho ho. Hee hee hee.
MISTER SOFTEE TRUCK JINGLE Try listening to this for a solid fucking hour on a hot humid night
MISTER SOFTEE TV COMMERCIALS What nostalgia. Next, let’s look at movie footage from concentration camps