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Honored in 2012 as “Northbrook’s Number One Citizen,” Jack Coombe was a child vaudevillian, war hero, celebrated comedy writer, prolific author and the co-host of Northbrook Community Television’s “Talk Around Town” for 20 years.
Jack died Oct. 9, 2019, at age 97, and his many friends packed a memorial service Wednesday, Oct. 16 at N.H. Scott & Hanekamp Funeral Home.
“Jack Coombe was such a supporter of Northbrook, and he always told a good story,” said Northbrook Village President Sandy Frum. “I so enjoyed listening to him, whether on TV or in person. It wasn’t just about Northbrook either. When he talked about his experiences at Pearl Harbor, it truly came to life. He was a rare and special individual.”
“Talk Around Town,” which Jack co-hosted with Susan Carrington beginning in 1995, featured interviews with local individuals, elected officials and celebrities.
“It’s like a kaleidoscope of Northbrook,” he said in a 2012 interview with The Northbrook Tower.
“We had a great time talking, learning, and laughing with our guests. Jack loved to tell his jokes and I loved laughing with him,” Carrington said.
Cheryl Fayne-deParsio, communications manager for the village, mirrored those sentiments.
“I consider myself lucky to have known Jack and work with him for over 25 years, but it was an honor to have the opportunity to call him my friend,” she said. “Jack was so personable and friendly, a true showman, and always a delight to work with. Jack was the heart of our Northbrook Community Television volunteer group, as we shared many stories and laughs together.”
Jack was born into show business. His father was a comedian and his mother was a show dancer. At 6, he was put on stage and as a child vaudevillian came to know Jackie Cooper and Jackie Coogan.
At 17, he was hired as a writer for a local radio station after the announcer got sick and he filled in.
In 1941, he entered the Navy in 1941, and spent four of the next six years in the Pacific, earning many medals and commendations while serving in Pearl Harbor, Midway, the Solomon Island and Philippine Island campaigns, and the Saipan and Okinawa invasions. As a gunner’s mate onboard a Navy ship during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he stared into the eyes of an oncoming kamikaze pilot who peeled off at the last second.
The U.S. Navy later lent Jack to the CBS radio network, where he wrote for and appeared on the show “Hello from Hawaii.” In 1945-46, while still in the Navy, Jack was a comedy writer for The Danny Kaye radio show, one of many celebrities with whom he crossed paths, among them Clark Gable and Boris Karloff.
On another occasion, CBS wanted to promote at date between a sailor and a Hollywood starlet at the famous Brown Derby in Hollywood, and they picked Jack and fellow Minnesotan Ann Southern.
“When we parted, she hugged me and gave me a kiss and said she had a wonderful time,” he said.
He was later supposed to interview Marilyn Monroe, “but when she came in the room, that husband of hers (Joe DiMaggio) stepped in front of me and stopped me cold. She stood in the background and did one of these (a shrug). He was so jealous of her.”
Jack graduated with a bachelor of arts from Northwestern University in 1955 and later did graduate studies in philosophy at Roosevelt University.
Over the course of his career he worked as a writer and performer for six radio stations and the networks CBS, ABC and MBS. He also appeared in and wrote for stage, film and television productions.
He and Peg, his wife of 70 years, moved to Northbrook in 1961.
At age 69, Jack began his career as an author. Among his nine fiction and non-fiction books were “Thunder Along the Mississippi,” “Gunfire Around the Gulf,” and “Gunsmoke Over the Atlantic,” which comprise the first three-volume naval history of the Civil war in print.
For each of those critically acclaimed books, he revisited the actual battle sites to better experience a sense of place.
“I always insisted I be left alone on the battlefields so I could absorb what was going on there and recreate it in my mind,” he said.
Another of his books, “When Radio Was King,” published in 2006, deals with Jack’s entire career as a writer and entertainer.
For many years, he visited Northbrook schools to talk about military history. Speaking to the Tower, he recalled with fondness one boy at Meadowbrook School.
“He came up to me and kept touching me. I asked him ‘why are you doing that?‘ He said ‘I want to touch you because you are a part of history.’”
Jack spent his last years at Belmont Village Senior Living in Glenview, where he remained a storyteller and entertainer to the end.