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.

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER