– PEOPLE WORTH REMEMBERING –
Ross Bagdasarian, Sr. brought us one of the most famous trios of all times. Stick with Tidbits to learn about the origin of three of the most recognizable animated characters of our time, the Chipmunks.
• This California native, born Rostom Sipan Dickran Bagdasarian, started out with minor roles on Broadway in the late 1930s. With the advent of World War II, Ross became a control tower operator in the Army Air Forces for four years, finishing as a staff sergeant. He was stationed in Seville, Spain, a city name that would become very important in his life.
• Post-war, Ross had several small roles in various movies, but it was his songwriting that launched his career. In 1951, now known professionally by his stage name David Seville, he composed the #1 hit “Come On-a My House,” which because a million-selling hit for Rosemary Clooney, igniting her career with sales of 750,000 records in a month. Ross furthered his songwriting with a hit for Dean Martin.
• In 1958, Ross came up with an innovative idea that catapulted him to fame. He composed the song “Witch Doctor,” and recorded his voice at different speeds to create the high-pitched squeaky voice of the witch doctor, with the popular line, “Oo-ee, oo-ah-ah, ting-tang, walla-walla bing-bang.” The odd little novelty song was a #1 hit, saving Liberty Records from going under.
• Ross used the same technique to create his trio of Chipmunks, using his own voice recorded at half-speed and played back at normal speed. He named his three rodents after executives at Liberty Records, Simon Waronker, Theodore Keep, and Alvin Bennett.
• The scholarly Simon, the plump and lovable Theodore, and the mischievous Alvin, all voiced by Seville, recorded 1958’s blockbuster hit “The Chipmunk Song” (“Christmas, Don’t Be Late”), which rocketed to #1 on the charts, selling 4.5 million records in seven weeks. It went on to sell 12 million copies. The song was awarded three Grammy Awards – Best Engineered Record, Best Comedy Performance, and Best Children’s Recording.
• Seville was the first person in popular music to serve as the writer, composer, publisher, engineer, conductor, and multiple vocalist of a hit record. With no other artists or crew to pay, all the revenue from “The Chipmunk Song” funneled into Seville’s pocket. He established Chipmunk Enterprises, which released Chipmunk-related merchandise, including shirts, stuffed animals, and figurines, with 15 companies selling products by 1963. CBS debuted “The Alvin Show” in 1961, featuring the trio along with an animated caricature of David Seville. While the series’ prime-time run ended in 1962, it was run in syndication for years, and re-invented in 1983.
• Seville began a new adventure in 1963, purchasing a California grape ranch and winery. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in 1972, just days before his 53rd birthday. Yet, the Chipmunk dynasty lived on! Seville’s son Ross Bagdasarian, Jr. and his wife stepped in to keep it going. New albums were released, along with a Christmas special, the new TV series in 1983, (which ran until 1990), four video games, a feature-length animated film in theaters, and the first live-action film adaptation in 2007. Although Ross, Jr. was a California lawyer, he took on the task of The Chipmunks. In his words, “…it was a way of keeping my dad alive, and keeping what he created alive.”