8 Things You Might Not Know About Alvin and the Chipmunks

Craig Berritt, Getty Images
Craig Berritt, Getty Images

For more than 60 years, the dulcet, high-speed tones of Alvin, Simon, and Theodore Seville have resonated with generations of fans. Alvin and the Chipmunks have made records, starred in numerous animated series and films, and even have their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For more on the history of this talented rodent trio, take a look at some facts on everything from their earliest recordings to the punk album that won them a whole new audience.

1. The Chipmunks owe a debt to The Wizard of Oz.

In the late 1950s, actor and musician Ross Bagdasarian was down to his last $200. Supporting a family of five, he decided to buy a tape recorder for $190 and record a song he felt would be in tune with the fast and sometimes indecipherable lyrics of modern music. “The Witch Doctor” featured Bagdasarian muttering gibberish that he sped up, ostensibly from a master of dark magic. The idea came in part from the unusual voices created by reel-to-reel tape recorders for the Munchkins in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz. To capture the distinctive pitch, Bagdasarian recorded at half-speed, delivering the lyrics slowly. Played at normal speed, it sounds like he had been on helium.

The playful tune was a hit in 1958, reaching number one on the charts. Bagdasarian credited himself as Dave Seville, taking the advice of executives who thought his real name would be hard to pronounce. He also ditched the witch doctor gimmick, but kept the high-speed squeak and attributed it to three chipmunks: Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, which he named after executives Alvin Bennett, Simon Waronker, and Theodore Keep at his record company, Liberty Records. Performing each of the roles as the Chipmunks, Bagdasarian scored a holiday smash with “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)” later that year. The single earned three Grammys and sold a staggering 25 million records over the next few years. Chipmunkmania had officially begun.

2. They performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The earliest live-action incarnation of the Chipmunks came in 1959, when Bagdasarian appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show alongside a trio of Chipmunk hand puppets. Some of the footage still exists and can be viewed in the video above.

3. Their first cartoon was short-lived.

Following the success of the albums, Bagdasarian accepted an offer for an animated series from CBS. Debuting in September 1961, The Alvin Show focused on the group’s domestic adventures and musical sessions and had a supporting cast that included manager (and Bagdasarian's alter ego) Dave Seville and non-human friends like Stanley the Eagle. The musical numbers are considered by some to be an early example of music videos, with melodies set to footage. Unfortunately, The Alvin Show failed to find an audience in primetime, airing opposite the popular Western series Wagon Train. It lasted just one season before being relegated to reruns on Saturday mornings.

4. “Dave” had to pack a pistol during recording sessions.

A costumed version of Alvin receives a kiss from actress Cameron Richardson during a public appearance
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

Bagdasarian was soon in the Chipmunk business full-time, recording a string of albums, sometimes with supporting vocalists. One of them, Ron Hicklin, told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that the team was recording in Hollywood when the Watts riots between police and residents broke out in 1965. Fearing some kind of violent encounter, Hicklin said Bagdasarian carried a pistol while walking from the studio to his car. “I remember laughing later how here we were inside recording Chipmunks and then going outside with Ross, who’s packing a pistol,” he said.

5. The Beatles were big fans.

In 1964, Bagdasarian released The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, an album-length compilation of covers from the Liverpool band. While it might have been permissible to perform them as parody without permission, Bagdasarian had the group’s blessing. They were reportedly big fans of the Chipmunks and of the technical challenges involved in creating their distinctive warble. “They were just amazed he was able to do the voices of Alvin and Dave and Simon and Theodore and then the music, and keep bouncing tracks back and forth," Ross Bagdasarian Jr. told Variety earlier this year. "The engineering feat of that was what impressed the Beatles so much that they gave him the authorization to do The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits."

6. Chipmunk Punk gave the group new life.

The cover to the 'Chipmunk Punk' album is pictured
Christopher Polk, Getty Images for Fox

Bagdasarian was a man of many interests. After Alvin and the Chipmunks had given him a measure of financial security, he focused less on the records and more on his winery, Sierra Wine Corporation. After Bagdasarian died in 1972, his three children inherited both the winemaking operation and the Chipmunks. After spending most of the 1970s keeping the group on ice, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. decided to see if the public was still charmed by their singing.

He had trouble finding a deal until a disc jockey played a high-speed version of Blondie’s “Call Me” and said it was a new Chipmunk track. When that took off, Bagdasarian Jr. put together Chipmunk Punk, a collection of contemporary tunes like the Knack’s “My Sharona.” That led to a new Saturday morning series, Alvin and the Chipmunks, which ran from 1983 to 1990. Bagdasarian Jr. took over the vocal duties for Alvin, Simon, and Dave. His wife, Janice Karman, performed Theodore and the all-female Chipettes.

7. The cartoon predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In one 1988 episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks, the gang appeared in a dream sequence in which they find themselves near the Berlin Wall and using the power of music to tear it down to help reunite a family. Strange as it might have been to see a cartoon tackle communism, it was even stranger to see how it predicted the fall of the actual Berlin Wall just two years later in 1991.

8. Robert Zemeckis almost directed an Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.

Costumed versions of Alvin and the Chipmunks appear in a photo standing next to Ross Bagdasarian Jr. and his wife, Janice Karman
Alberto E. Rodriguez, Getty Images

The Chipmunks have traditionally been depicted in animation, though they did appear in puppet form in the 2003 direct-to-DVD special Little Alvin and the Mini-Munks, an educational release that featured the group as preschoolers. But their first live-action appearance was supposed to be in the mid-1990s, with Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis planning a feature film. When that failed to materialize, the Chipmunks bided their time until a 2007 CGI feature, Alvin and the Chipmunks, was released. Three sequels followed, including 2009’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, 2011’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, and 2015’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.

Anthony Blunt: The Art Historian/Russian Spy Who Worked at Buckingham Palace

Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Des Willie, Netflix

*Mild spoilers for season 3 of The Crown on Netflix ahead.

Viewers of the third season of The Crown on Netflix will likely have their curiosity piqued by Anthony Blunt, the art historian who is revealed to be a spy for the Russians during his 19 years of service to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of getting the boot once he was discovered, however, Blunt went on to remain under Her Majesty's employ for eight more years—until his official retirement. While treason never looks good on a resume, the royal class had good reason to keep him on.

Blunt, who was born and raised in England, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and was indoctrinated as a spy after being convinced of the benefits of Communism in fighting fascism. He began recruiting his university classmates at Cambridge before serving during World War II and leaking information about the Germans to the KGB. Blunt was one of five Cambridge graduates under Soviet direction. Two of them, diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, relocated to the Soviet Union in 1951. Another, Kim Philby, went undetected until 1961. John Cairncross escaped notice, too, but was eventually outed.

However, it was Blunt who had a post at Buckingham Palace. After being tipped off by American intelligence, MI5 interrogated Blunt. He confessed to his treachery in 1964 and was granted immunity from prosecution. Why was he able to remain employed? One theory has it that British intelligence was so embarrassed by Blunt's ability to circulate in the upper levels of the monarchy that firing him would have raised too many questions. Another thought has Blunt having knowledge of some bizarrely congenial wartime correspondence between Adolf Hitler and the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. King Edward VIII, whose abdication led to Elizabeth's eventual ascension to the throne).

Whatever the case, the Queen was advised by MI5 to keep Blunt around. In his role as art curator, he had no access to classified information. Blunt was at the Palace through 1972 and spent another seven years roaming London giving lectures. His actions remained a tightly guarded secret until Margaret Thatcher disclosed his treason in 1979.

As for that speech seen in The Crown, where Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth makes some not-so-subtle digs at Blunt at the opening of a new exhibition, there's no record of such a takedown ever happening. While the two reportedly kept their distance from each other in private, according to Miranda Carter's Anthony Blunt: His Lives:

“Blunt continued to meet the Queen at official events. She came to the opening of the Courtauld’s new galleries in 1968, and in 1972 she personally congratulated Blunt on his retirement, when the Lord Chamberlain, knowing nothing of his disgrace, offered him the honorary post of Adviser on the Queen’s pictures—inadvertently continuing his association with the Palace for another six years.”

Stripped of his knighthood as a result of the truth about his actions being made known, Blunt became a recluse and died of a heart attack in 1983. His memoirs, which were made public by the British Library in 2009, indicated his regret, calling his spy work "the biggest mistake of my life."

This New The Office-Themed Clue Board Game Lets You Solve the Murder of Toby Flenderson

Hot Topic
Hot Topic

Michael Scott never kept his deep-seated hatred of Toby Flenderson a secret. In fact, he publicly declared it on many occasions and even gave him a Dundie Award for his “extreme repulsiveness.” But when Michael calls a mandatory “team-building event” to solve Toby’s murder in the new The Office edition of Clue, you’ll have no choice but to investigate. The game is exclusive to Hot Topic stores and sells for $49. Though it's currently backordered, it's expected to start shipping again by December 28. You can get your own copy here.

In this game, three to six other players will assume the roles of Angela Martin, Stanley Hudson, Dwight Schrute, Jim Halpert, Pam Beesly, and Andy Bernard. You’ll be tasked with finding Toby's killer, the murder weapon, and where the grisly act took place. The winner gets a week's paid vacation, but if the murder goes unsolved, Michael will give up on his team and go home.

The Office Clue
Hot Topic

The game will take you through key locations featured The Office, like the annex, warehouse, and the conference room. Along with nine custom weapons, which include Michael's "world’s best boss" mug and his George Foreman grill, the set also comes with six suspect movers, a deck of personality cards, a deck of rumor cards, a score pad, a clue scandal envelope, and two dice.

Can’t get enough of the gang from Dunder Mifflin? Check out our The Office gift guide, which has everything from Funko figures to coloring pages that will make perfect presents for any fan of this hit mockumentary series.

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