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.
Broadcast from a loudspeaker atop each truck, with strains that recall an old-fashioned music box, the jingle has words and music by Mr. Waas.
The trucks play an instrumental version. The words run thus:
The CREAM-i-est DREAM-i-est SOFT ice CREAM you GET from MIS-ter SOF-tee. FOR a re-FRESH-ing de-LIGHT su-PREME LOOK for MIS-ter SOF-tee. …
Mister Softee was established in Philadelphia in 1956. Now based in Runnemede, N.J., it is one of the country’s largest soft ice cream franchises, with more than 650 trucks plying 15 states; the company also operates in China.
Mr. Waas wrote the jingle in 1960 for Mister Softee’s radio advertisements. At the time, he could scarcely have realized that the jaunty genie he loosed on the region would refuse to go back in the bottle.
Over the years, his tune has become 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.
Lester Morton Waas was born in Philadelphia on May 18, 1921. His father, Lester, ran a theatrical costume shop; his mother, the former Alice Maybaum, was a schoolteacher.