By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
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By Chris Parker
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Junior Standish met Milton Berle in 1947 at the Riviera nightclub in New York City, where she was a showgirl. Berle, headlining at the Roxy theatre, was on the verge of becoming a huge celebrity, the first television star. Standish was a beautiful dancer, "the toast of Broadway," in Berle's words.
"I wasn't married; neither was she," says Berle, interviewed via telephone from his Beverly Hills home. "Who was to say what's to do and who to keep company with? I courted her . . . we went together. We spoke about marriage . . . it never worked out.
"We had a romance, et cetera, et cetera."
Meet Bob Williams, one of those et ceteras.
Williams--a local broadcaster, actor and the manager of a Scottsdale tobacco store--is Milton Berle's love child by Junior Standish, a fact Williams didn't learn until age 33 and a fact the world didn't learn until late July, when Berle spilled the beans to a supermarket tabloid.
Williams, now 42, had been keeping a lid on his celebrity lineage to protect the privacy of his mother, who now lives in Scottsdale under a different name. But Berle's story in the Star tabloid has changed all of that, and Williams has, for the first time, agreed to tell his story. Most of it, at least.
The most telling evidence of Williams' tale is his face. When Bob Williams smiles, Milton Berle inhabits the laugh lines around his eyes, and the son's kisser becomes the father's.
For much of his life, Williams believed that his father was Gene Williams, a big-band singer and bandleader whom Standish married shortly after her romance with Berle ended. Berle was known to Bob Williams for most of his life as "a friend of the family" who would send for the boy from Las Vegas a couple of times every year.
Bob began to wonder about his parentage while in his late 20s, when he first held a photo of Berle next to his own image in a mirror. But his notions weren't validated until the morning of his own wedding in 1984, when Berle, invited to town for the function, asked Bob to join him for a wedding-day breakfast in the actor's suite at the Registry resort.
When Bob arrived at the hotel, Berle was already finished with his cereal with bananas, and had started on the first cigar of the day. Bob recalls that Berle was still wearing his nightclothes. "He said, 'I've got to tell you something.'
"I said, 'What?' I knew right then what he was going to say.
"He looked at me and says, 'I'm your father.'
"My answer was, 'I know.' "He said, 'I've been wanting to tell you for a long, long time. I wanted you to know, and I'm very proud of you.'
"He was very quiet, almost tearful, heartfelt. I was very choked up. He smiled. 'How'd you know? Did your mother tell you?' "I said, 'No. I'd been thinking about it. I just had a feeling.'
"Then, bam, it's another day. He's completely off the subject, onto something else completely. 'So, are you excited about the wedding?'"
A few hours later, Berle punctuated the completion of the wedding ceremony with a brisk "Mazel!", then retreated to a Scottsdale jazz bar for the reception. Bob remembers his dad holding court there, saying, "I love this place. It was never new."
Also in attendance, naturally, was Junior Standish, Bob's mother. After the bride and groom cut their wedding cake, she approached her son, crying. "I just wanted to tell you that Milton's your father," she said.
Now doubly informed, Bob was still left with the task of informing his wife that any children produced by their union would be Milton Berle's grandchildren. He waited to pass on this news until the couple arrived at its honeymoon destination, Sedona. "It was kind of stunning for both of us," says Bob.
Equally stunning, to Bob, at least, was his father's revelation to the Star tabloid a few weeks ago. "SECRET MILTON BERLE HEARTACHE," the headline screamed. "I CAN'T TELL MY LOVE CHILD I'M HIS FATHER."
An ironic touch: The "love child" referred to in the headline is not Bob Williams. Milton Berle has two love children. According to Berle, the Star approached him to be interviewed about his 80 years in show business. But the reporter got the legendary comic sidetracked into a discussion about his other love child, this one a 55-year-old, entertainment-industry figure whose identity Berle has never revealed.
The story of love child No. 1 is well-known in Hollywood. In fact, Berle built his 1974 autobiography around the tale. Known to the public only as "Larry," this love child is the product of a late-1930s coupling of Berle and a "starlet who wanted to get ahead," in the Star's words. To this day, "Larry" (now a "Hollywood power broker," according to the Star) doesn't know that Berle is his dad, and Berle has vowed to take the secret to his grave.
The love child No. 2 bombshell--namely, Bob Williams--was introduced midway through the Star piece cataloguing Berle's grief about the "Larry" situation, which Berle described as "the saddest thing in my life." "It's different with Bob," Berle told the Star. "We see each other and have a good relationship. He's handsome and bright, and I'm very proud of him." Says Berle of the story: "I didn't intend to talk about it, but I was in the mood that day. I spilt out everything."