PASADENA, CA—Well-known frontman for Alvin & The Chipmunks, the singing group that included his brothers Simon and Theodore, Alvin Seville is adored by millions for his intricate vocals on such playful songs as "Alvin's Harmonica" and "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)." The chipmunk celebrates his 70th birthday this month, as well as his 46th year bearing the scarlet letter "A"—the mark of shame that reminds members of the animal kingdom that he is an actor who has adopted the ways of humankind.
"'A singer of people-songs!'" said the Seville family's former tax accountant, echoing the cries raised against Alvin so many years ago. "'What kind of a business in life—what mode of glorifying Mother Nature, of being serviceable to chipmunks?' Such were the comments bandied between leaf and twig, chattered from branch to branch! And yet, let them scorn Alvin as they would, strong traits of their nature had intertwined themselves with his."
In 1958, members of the Woodland Council forced Alvin to sew a scarlet, gold-embroidered "A" on his sweater. They then paraded him before his forest peers and exiled him to a split-level ranch home on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
"When 'The Witch Doctor' became a success, the animal community seized upon Alvin's 'unholy' communion with humankind," entertainment writer Seth Morris said. "By today's standards, it seems barbaric to ostracize a chipmunk because of a relatively harmless series of novelty recordings. It was a different time then."
According to Morris, Alvin's father sent the chipmunk to Hollywood while still an infant, with the stated intention of following later. The elder animal remained in the forest, however, leaving Alvin and his brothers alone in the human world. It was then that Alvin met Seville, who developed a liking for the chipmunks and adopted them as his own children.
"So moody and mischievous were Alvin and his brothers that people used to joke that their birth father was actually the devil," the accountant said. "But Dave truly loved the chipmunks, and so he was torn, for he knew the human-animal bond to be unnatural."
While Alvin refused to identify the father who'd abandoned him, many say he bears an uncanny likeness to popular entertainer Dale, a singing, dancing chipmunk who arrived in Hollywood around the time of Alvin's downfall.
"Dale could see there was something between Alvin and Dave," Morris said. "Alvin was heartbroken to have been made a pariah, but he bore it stoically, pouring all of his energy into his songs and his television programs."
While the animals publicly rallied against Alvin, many privately expressed admiration for both his bravery and the speed and pitch of his plaintive, almost human vocals.
"Alvin, with a mind of native courage and activity, outlawed from the wilds, wandered among the suburbs and studios of mankind," the accountant said. "The scarlet letter was his passport into regions other chipmunks dared not tread. Fame, adoration, applause! These were his teachers—stern and wild ones—and they made him strong, but taught him much amiss."
For many years, Seville refused comment on his relationship with Alvin.
"Dave felt terrible guilt over luring Alvin from the animal world and subjecting him to so much pain at the paws of his peers," inventor and Alvin costar Clyde Crashcup said. "At one concert, he came very close to taking the microphone and admitting to that which was animal in his own nature, just as Alvin had been forced to own up to his trespasses into humanity. But ultimately, Dave was too afraid."
"It was only seconds later that a lighting rig fell, forming a giant letter 'A' behind the set," Crashcup added.
In the controversial final episode of The Alvin Show, however, Seville appeared before a live studio audience, acknowledged his relationship with Alvin, and tore open his shirt to reveal an "A"-shaped skin discoloration on his chest. Shortly afterward, he died, his final word the plaintive call, "Alllviiin!"
Alvin withdrew from the limelight with the cancellation of his last TV series, Alvin & The Chipmunks. While he has periodically returned to the studio to record covers of such popular songs as "Achy Breaky Heart" and "The Macarena," Alvin has spent the past decade largely in seclusion.
"Alvin made the choice to go back to the suburban home that had once been his place of banishment," the accountant said. "Here had been his sin; here, his sorrow; and here is yet to be his penitence. He has returned, therefore, and resumed of his own free will, the symbol of which I have related so dark a tale. But the scarlet letter has ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world's scorn and bitterness, and has become something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too."