The Return Of The Chipmunks


For decades, "The Chipmunk Song" has inspired countless Christmas wishes, so you might wonder just what's behind these Chipmunks eagerly awaiting the holiday's arrival.

Ross Bagdasarian Jr. is the son of the man who created the Chipmunks and their signature sound. Today, Ross Jr. and his wife Janice Karmin carry on the Chipmunk legacy.

He remembers being a child and eagerly awaiting Christmas.

"I think that's one of the reasons my dad came up with that song, because we, like Alvin, couldn't wait for Christmas to get there," he told Sunday Morning anchor Charles Osgood. "My dad, I think, so loved seeing our excitement about it, that that kind of filled him for it as well."

In the late 1940's, Ross Sr. was a struggling Hollywood songwriter. After years of frustration, he finally hit the big-time in 1951, co-writing the Rosemary Clooney classic, "Come On-a My House." Along the way, he continued to compose and also played small roles in films, like Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window."

But by the end of the '50s, Bagdasarian's career had stalled. Broke and struggling, he took a chance on an idea:

"My dad and the three kids, family, mortgage, $200 left in the bank, my dad should what any really crazy person would do: 'I'm taking $190 and buying a tape machine,'" Bagdasarian said. "About two weeks later he has written 'Witch Doctor,' because that tape machine allowed him to slow the machine down, change speeds."

Bagdasarian wasn't the only one near bankruptcy - so was his record label.

"They just looked at him and said, 'What are we gonna do with this?' He said, 'Well look, you guys are about to go bankrupt. If it's a flop, you're gonna go bankrupt anyway. But if it's a hit, you guys will have a business,'" Bagdasarian said.

The song bewitched the record-buying public. And David Seville - Bagdasarian's performing name - found himself with a number one hit. Liberty Records soon came calling for another novelty song.
"About that time, my brother, who was about four, is asking in the middle of July," Bagdasarian said. "It's really hot outside and he's wondering if it's Christmas yet. So that gave my dad the idea of kids that can't wait for Christmas."

Ross wrote 'The Chipmunk Song' in the fall of 1958. Alvin, Simon and Theodore were named for executives at the record company.

The record broke records. Millions were sold. David Seville and the Chipmunks became stars. They won three Grammys.

Over the next ten years, the Chipmunks popped up everywhere: Ed Sullivan, Tribute Records, commercials, and even a show on CBS.

By the end of the decade, Ross Sr. decided he was ready to retire the Chipmunks and start something new. But he never got the chance. Ross Bagdasarian died in 1972 at 52 years old. The Chipmunks fell silent.

But Ross Jr., then in his '30s, missed Alvin, Simon and Theodore.

In 1975, he met his wife Janice, a young actress in Los Angeles, and enlisted her help to bring back his old friends.

"And he said, 'Do you think they could be viable today?'" Janice said. "And I said, 'Absolutely. I loved the Chipmunks.'"

So, for the last three decades - with Ross Jr. and Janice voicing almost every part - the Chipmunks have been busier than ever. And this week: Alvin, Simon and Theodore hit the silver screen - starring in a live-action Hollywood movie. Actor Jason Lee plays David Seville.

"I think the voices are key," Lee said. "The innocence, and how much they represent, very much in this case, in the movie, a kind of freedom. And, 'Hey, let's just play! Let's just have fun!'"

Nearly 50 years after the Chipmunks crooned their first song, a new generation is singing along with Simon, Theodore and Alvin.

... Alvin? ...