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The Story of Alvin

Steve Worth over at the Asifa-Hollywood Animation Archive has posted a plethora of Alvin and The Chipmunks memorabilia to tell the story behind this eternal pop-culture phenomenon. Steve has posted much rare material from the Format Films era Alvin Show including several storyboards (including the rare pilot) and Jules Engel color keys. Go there now! Here’s the direct link.

  • Grant

    Great stuff! Too bad he had kids…

  • Jason

    No doubt Ross Bagdasarian would be very surprised and pleased that his creation has survived – and thrived – for so long. I found the recent Chipmunks revival film to be surprisingly enjoyable, even with the drastic re-imagining going on. The basic premise and characters survived, and most of the updating was graceful and logical. Whoever’s trying to bring back the Muppets ought to take note. (Please don’t tell me they’re fine the way they are. I saw a commercial with them in it the other day and they all looked like socks and foam rubber dollies. In other words, LAME! A little CGI wouldn’t hurt them a bit – that is, if anyone really wants them back. Not everything bears resurrection: The Rocky and Bullwinkle revival didn’t work out very well…)

  • Dave G

    So you’re saying all Jesus needs to come back is some good CGI.

  • Robert Schaad

    Unusually enough…just yesterday I had re-read this excerpt from an interview with electric guitar great/inventor, multi-track recording legend Les Paul (to add to the story of the creation of Alvin and the Chipmunks):

    You’ve been involved with so many musical firsts — what’s this about your idea that gave us Alvin and the Chipmunks?

    LP: The Chipmunks would never be here if it wasn’t for me. One night, I was with my friend Howie, who I didn’t even know was Howard Hughes, I only knew him as Howie. Well, Howie was always busting my chops. I was playing at this jazz joint called the Club Rounders and Howie asked, “How you doing playing at the Upholstered Sewer” Later, we went to get a hot dog and we went by this studio and I knocked on the door and the guy inside says, “Can’t you see the light’s lit? Who are you anyway?”, and Hughes said, “This is Howie,” I said, “I’m Les Paul.” The guy behind the door said, “The Les Paul?” and I said, “Yep,” and he then said, “Well, come on in!”

    So, I went in there and he’s trying to make a recording of a bunch of guys singing and I said, “Why don’t you do it this way?” And I took one of them and worked it up and they liked it and it was the first one to come out as the Chipmunks. That was in the late 1950s I think. And since that time he would always stop a date if he saw me, he’d cancel the date. He’d say, “Come back another day. Book another day, my friend is here!”

    He always felt like he owed me a million dollars. Very few people know this story, I’ve rarely told that story. A lot of people that know me know about it, but I’ve never told the press about it.

  • Jason

    **So you’re saying all Jesus needs to come back is some good CGI.**

    Nah, all he needs is a miracle. Come to think of it, that applies to the Muppets too…

  • uncle wayne

    omg!! And i was just glimpsing the (recent) feature film yesterday, in part, and noting (how much of) an homage to this tv show it really is. A farrrrr better film than I (and we) all thought it would be.

    I adored this tv show….and loved it when it was rerun on (CBS’) Sat. morns, too!

  • uncle wayne

    Well, damn you, Jerry!! Now you have me looking (allllll nite) at those wonderful music video from the seriess…..which, I’m glad to declare, alllllllllll seem to exist on (thank God!) : YouTube!! My favorite: “I Wish I Had a Horse!” Check ’em out….they are allll there….and a joy to relive!!

  • David Breneman

    The problem with Les Paul is that he believed his own publicity. He accomplished many great things, but he also took credit for many things accomplished by other people. That’s too bad, because with all he did, he didn’t need to pump up his ego in such a phony way. Really an enigma.

  • I used to stop in at Format Films back when they were doing “Alvin.” The show was pretty cool, and Ross Bagdasarian was a pretty cool guy as well.

    Of course, I’m speaking of Ross, senior.

  • Dock Miles

    I was always a David Seville fan. Had a Number One hit (“Witch Doctor”) when he was almost 40 (dragged down somewhat by probably inspiring later projects). Had a role in “Rear Window.” Wrote “Come On-a My House.”

    Wish somebody could provide a short summary of what was uniquely appealing about the Chipmunks other than mere novelty voices. And now, longevity and accordant media pervasiveness. Among the biggest no- there-theres that I know.

  • Moore

    Nobody seems to recall that Disney did the whole ‘sped up singing voices’ thing with their harmonizing mice in “Cinderella” a few years prior to Ross Bagdasarian’s “invention” of the technique. Bagdasarian may have even called his creations chipmunks because he was savvy enough not to call them mice.

  • Greg Ehrbar

    The idea of speeding up voices actually predates Cinderella’s mice, as well. But Walt Disney actually had the idea of using the technique for a Christmas record one year before Ross Bagdasarian.

    One of the things Tim Hollis and I studied, when we were working on MOUSE TRACKS, was an autobiography called INSIDE THE WHIMSY WORKS by Jimmy Johnson, who started the record company (I’ve just finished editing the manuscript and it is finally going to be published by University Press of Mississippi in the near future).

    In the memoir, he explained that Walt Disney was not usually very involved with Disneyland Records (he personally recorded only one, “Walt Disney Takes You to Disneyland’), but he approached Johnson and A&R Director Tutti Camarata with an idea about mice who live under a recording studio and sneak out nightly to make their own record. Tutti recorded a lavish EP 45 RPM record of Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland and a carol medley — speeding up the orchestra as well as the voices — and it was released as “Disney’s Christmas Concert” with art by Bill Peet.

    The record was not a hit when it was released for the 1957 holiday season and Walt chalked it up to musicians “not having a sense of humor.” (?) Actually, the record might have clarified the premise better (rather than relying on the book) and it did not have new songs.

    Ross Bagdasarian instantly corrected the mistake by opening “The Chipmunk Song” with himself as David Seville saying, “All right, you Chipmunks, ready to sing your song?” immediately identifying them by name and setting up their characters in a few moments (even though Theodore’s voice is low instead of high this time).

    “The Chipmunk Song” was a monster hit in 1958, the fastest selling single to that date. Apparently Walt never let his people forget it.

    The genius of the Chipmunks is the same thing that makes great animation: strong characters, engaging stories (in this case, a situation in the three minutes of a song), technical expertise and spot-on performances with superb timing.

    All you have to do is listen to one of the many Chipmunk knock offs made in the years after The Chipmunk Song and then listen to a masterpiece like “Alvin’s Orchestra” to see that it was more than a gimmick.

  • Marbles

    I’ve never seen the original show but used to watch the 80s sequel as a kid. I hadn’t seen it in years when I found it on Cartoon Network in 2001. I have to say, for a cartoon from the early/mid ’80s, the writing could be surprisingly acidic and cynical. The characters were very strong and the humor sometimes had a rather bitter edge to it (Alvin being just a completely unredeemable incorrigible greedbag, and his female counterpart being even worse than him, drove a lot of that dynamic). Ever since seeing it again 8 years ago I’ve been surprised at how it doesn’t get much notice today despite what a standout it was at the time in terms of tone.

  • David Breneman

    After reading Greg Ehrbar’s comments I had to dig out my copy of “Disney’s Christmas Concert” and listen to it again. Well, I listened to a little of it. The introduction, with the conductor “rehearsing” the choir and orchestra is just too precious (and I don’t mean that in the positive sense of the word). I’ve never made it past the first song. No wonder this record langished. It did need a story.

    I have an example of another sped-up voice song that predates the Chipmunks, and that’s Nat King Cole’s “Frosty the Snowman.” It’s truly wretched, really unlistenable, and you have to wonder why such a talented guy would submit to such a thing. There’s no indication of what the high voices are supposed to represent (Mice? Snow men? Christmas elves?) and so you’re left to think that someone just had a Really Bad Idea. I don’t know when it came out, but my copy is on 78 so it had to be before 1958.

  • Chet Kennedy

    Please, just get ALL of the CLASSIC Alvin Show on DVD!!!!!

  • Andrew Kieswetter

    Is that Ros/David in the photo, Jerry? JERRY!!