Alvin and the Profits

More than 50 years after squeaking to the top of the charts, Alvin and the Chipmunks remains a billion-dollar family business
Photograph by Gregg Segal

Chipmunks get into the darndest places. A few months ago, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. was vacationing in a remote part of Myanmar, reachable only by boat, when his tour guide asked what he did for a living. Since American movies and TV shows generally aren’t legally available there, Bagdasarian began explaining that he owns Alvin and the Chipmunks, a music, media, and merchandise franchise based on mischievous rodents that sing pop hits in helium-high voices. As it turns out, he didn’t need to explain. “She knew it!” he remembers with a laugh. “It’s funny, because if you look at the breadth of this thing it’s in 75 or 80 countries—and those are just the ones that do it lawfully.”

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