The Sportsmen

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In 1938, Bill Days and Max Smith left the Paul Taylor Choristers to form their own quartet. The joined up with Don Craig and Art McCullough as a group called the Metropolitans, which they later renamed the Sportsmen. Don Craig left the group shortly thereafter to join Fred Waring and Thurl took his place in the Sportsmen. When Art McCullough decided leave the quartet, John Rarig (the group's arranger) took over as the group's baritone.

The Sportsmen

The Sportsmen: Bill Days, Max Smith, John Rarig, and Thurl

The Sportsmen quickly became a popular group owing partly to their frequent appearance on The Jell-O Program starring Jack Benny. They also worked on The Sealtest Village Store with Rudy Vallee, The Ginny Simms Show, The Burns and Allen Show, and The Al Pearce Show (on which they were billed as The Merry Men). For more about the Sportsmen on Radio check out the Thurl's Career on Radio page.

They also appeared in the films Isle of Destiny (1940), Puddin' Head (1941), and Lost Canyon (1942). See Thurl in Film for additional details.

The Sportsmen even sang on cartoons for both Disney and Warner Brothers. They worked with Disney, most notably on the Mickey Mouse short The Nifty Nineties (1941). They sang in many Warner Brothers cartoons in the late 1930s and early 1940s  including: Porky's Duck Hunt (1937), A Sunbonnet Blue (1937), Love and Curses (1938), Snowman's Land (1939), Dangerous Dan McFoo (1939), Little Blabbermouse (1940), Confederate Honey (1940), The Fighting 69½th (1941), The Dover Boys (1942), and Conrad the Sailor (1942). 

When World War II broke out, Thurl, as the youngest and only unmarried member of the quartet decided to join the military. He had learned to fly as a hobby, but at 6'5" he knew he would be too tall to become a pilot so he learned how to navigate and enlisted in the Air Transport Command as part of the Army Air Corps in 1942. Gurney Bell replaced in the Sportsmen and about a year later John Rarig decided to concentrate on arranging and gave up his singing duties to Marty Sperzel.

When Thurl returned to Hollywood in 1947, he intended to rejoin the quartet, but Gurney Bell did not want to leave. By this time, they were regulars on Jack Benny's show. Gurney's wife threatened to sue Jack Benny if Gurney were fired, so Jack, not wanting to get involved with the personnel issues of the quartet, fired them all at the end of the season. His plan was to rehire them the following season, after they sorted out who would be in the group. Bill Days and Marty Sperzel wanted to keep Gurney. Max felt that Thurl had a guaranteed position, and although Thurl did make a few appearance with the quartet, he was basically told his services were no longer needed. Even though Jack Benny did not want to become involved he may have given tacit approval to Gurney because he was reluctant to make changes and preferred the way the group looked and sounded. Somehow, Bill Days, as the leader of the quartet got most of the blame for Thurl not returning to the group. The Sportsmen continued to work with Jack Benny throughout the rest of his radio career.

In the spring of 1947 and 1948  the Sportsmen were also doing a lot of live appearances with Jack Benny around the country. Max Smith "retired" from the Sportsmen in the spring of 1948, partly due to the group's treatment of Thurl and the heavy demands of traveling. Late in 1948 joined a group called The Talking People. Near the end of that year Thurl asked Max to join him in a new quartet, The Mellomen, teaming up with Bill Lee and Bob Hamlin. Visit The Mellomen page for lots more about them.

For years Thurl blamed Bill Days for preventing him from rejoining the Sportsmen, but in hindsight it may have been the best thing that happened for Thurl and Max as the Mellomen had much greater recording success than the Sportsmen did, though the Sportsmen continued to be the #1 radio quartet for many years.

For anyone interested, after Max left the Sportsmen, Bob Stevens (who later joined the Mellomen) took his place. When Bob left the Sportsmen in 1951 due to the demands of traveling, he was replaced by Jay Mayer. Jay only stayed with the quartet until 1954 and was replaced by Bob Garsen. In 1957, Marty Sperzel left the group after a confrontation with Bill Days over control of the quartet. His replacement was Jay Moffett. The Sportsmen continued to perform until 1971 when they disbanded.

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