Ron Polao, 81, of Penn Valley, an actor, local TV and radio personality, and longtime advertising voice of Boscov’s department stores, died Tuesday, March 16, of heart failure at home.
Mr. Polao was most proud of his role as Rudolfo, the chauffeur, in the 1967 Mel Brooks film The Producers. He was also an extra in many movies shot in the Philadelphia area, such as Trading Places, Rocky, Blowout, and Taps.
In Philadelphia and Trenton in the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Polao was a popular radio disc jockey who interviewed Elvis Presley and Patti Page; an overnight radio talk-show host who once persuaded a distraught listener to reconsider suicide; and the star of The Fun Club with Ron Polao on what was then WIBF-TV, Channel 29.
“He was a character,” said his daughter, Mia. “He was eccentric. People would say, ‘That’s your dad?’ But they loved him. He had a unique personality.”
Mr. Polao liked to wear big glasses and distinctive clothes. A comedy writer who pitched several TV and radio pilot shows, he was a pioneer in children’s programming with his after-school Fun Club. The show featured him doing skits and jokes, and reading letters from viewers who poked fun at him.
The program was advertised around town on billboards that featured a picture of Mr. Polao with his thumbs in his ears and the directive “Go home and make fun of Ron Polao.” He also worked in the TV studio at NBC’s Channel 3 as an announcer when commercials and public service bulletins were aired live.
Driven to create and express himself wherever he could, he wrote, directed, produced, and narrated TV commercials for Boscov’s from the 1990s to 2017. He attended store openings, and the family accompanied him on Caribbean cruises sponsored by founder Albert Boscov.
“He was a real talent,” said his son Gary.
Mr. Polao was born June 23, 1939, in Trenton. His father wanted him to work on the assembly line at the local General Motors plant. But his entertainment career took off first after he won a DJ contest at a local radio station. That led him to spinning records and hosting radio shows at what were then WTNJ, WTTM, and WDAS.
He landed a gig in 1963 to host a daily comedy radio show. But it was canceled on the day it was to debut after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
He also worked for a time with another local comedy writer, Ron Bloomberg, and their proposed show for WCAU radio in the 1980s fell through when the station suddenly changed its format to all news.
Mr. Polao met Roni Weiner at a party, and she found him funny and interesting. They married in 1966, lived in Merion Station, and had daughter Mia and sons Gary and Jason. They divorced in 1981 but remained lifelong friends.
“He was one of a kind, and he found his niche,” his former wife said. “He was very work-oriented and so creative.”
Mr. Polao was treated for throat cancer a few years ago and, not wanting to lose his distinctive announcer’s voice, declined surgery for an alternative treatment that left him in remission but unable to enjoy his customary cigars and three-olive martinis.
“He beat the odds,” his former wife said of his recovery. His doctor at Penn called him his star patient.
Mr. Polao liked the New York Yankees and once wore an entire Yankees uniform to a game against the Phillies in South Philadelphia. He played golf well enough to compete in local tournaments, listened to jazz, and drove around in a classic 1970 Cadillac convertible. He was close with his son-in-law, Reynold Jaffe.
“He was kind, optimistic, sweet, and brave,” his former wife said.
In addition to his daughter, son Gary, former wife, and son-in-law, Mr. Polao is survived by two grandchildren. His son Jason died two months earlier.
A private graveside service was on March 22. Interment was at the Garden of Peace at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.