By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Until July, Bob Williams and Milton Berle had always agreed that mum would be the word, to protect the privacy of Bob's mom. Some of her privacy remains intact. Bob would cooperate with New Times only if the newspaper agreed not to print her new name or attempt to interview her. Few of Standish's Arizona friends know the details of her background, and, at age 68, she apparently doesn't like to be asked about that part of her past. "She's become real shy," says her son.
"Shy" would not seem to describe Junior Standish in her dancing days. According to her son, she was quite the social butterfly when she was not dancing in clubs or on the legit stage. As such a star--columnist Walter Winchell labeled her "the Most Beautiful Girl on Broadway"--Standish had her share of suitors, Joe DiMaggio among them. "Today, she would be on the level of Sharon Stone, Michelle Pfeiffer," says Berle. In addition to Standish's dancing, Bob says, his mother's image appeared on standup advertising placards. Later, she went on to dance on Jackie Gleason's television show and to perform in TV commercials for Westinghouse, Schick, Nescafe and Sominex. "I have a feeling that if I hadn't come along, my mother would've gone a lot further in her dancing career," says Bob.
First to come along, of course, was Milton Berle. By the late 1940s, Berle was among the most famous entertainers of his day, thanks to television. As host of the first popular live variety show on the new medium--Texaco Star Theater, broadcast on Tuesday nights by NBC--Berle worked his vaudeville-honed shtick to great acclaim. Sometimes he wore a dress, but historians credit Berle (Uncle Miltie," "Mr. Television," "The Thief of Bad Gags") with popularizing television for blue-collar audiences. In this context, he has lots of illegitimate offspring, up to and including Beavis and Butt-head.
When he entered Junior Standish's life, Berle had divorced his first wife, Joyce Matthews. The Standish-Berle romance was interrupted, briefly, when Berle remarried Matthews for several months in 1949. (Somebody asked me why I married her again," Berle tells New Times. "I said, 'Because she looked like my first wife.' Thought you might like to put a humorous line in there.") As a bachelor, Berle rode a wave of celebrity unimagined to that point, cutting "a wide swath through show-biz womanhood," wrote the authors of The Intimate Sex Lives of Famous People, published in 1981, "dallying with Betty Hutton, Dorothy Kilgallen, Wendy Barrie and Marilyn Monroe." According to the book, Berle also "dated" evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, the Tammy Faye Bakker of her day. Like Berle's relationships with other famous women, his romance with Standish was high-profile fodder for New York's gossip columnists. Yet the arrival of their baby, in 1951, somehow escaped the headline writers. "We kept it closed, and no one knew it," says Berle. "When Bobby was born, there was never any notoriety on it. It wasn't in the papers."
These days, when marriage seems to be one of the lesser requirements for entertainers starting families, it may be hard to imagine the potential disgrace that would have accompanied an illegitimate celebrity baby in those days. Frank Leiberman, longtime Hollywood publicist for Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller and others, says observers of current rich-and-famous lifestyles should consider that the moral climate of the early 1950s was vastly more conservative than today's. "When I was at Warner Bros., we used to retouch cleavage in publicity stills!" he says. "In the movies, husbands and wives couldn't sleep in the same bed!" Leiberman adds that Berle, as an agent of a strange, new medium being projected into America's living rooms, would likely have been held to a higher moral standard than other stars. Leiberman cites the case of film star Errol Flynn, who regularly seemed to get caught deflowering teenagers, and whose reputation seemed to be enhanced by such escapades. Leiberman believes that Berle, though gleefully playing the playboy in his private life, would have found his career a wreck had word gotten out about either of his two illegitimate babies. Berle agrees. "In those days, it would've been, compared to this era, very scandalous. It wouldn't have been very good notoriety for the mother or for myself. Today, it's like nothing."
Berle says he and Standish discussed marriage, but it's unclear why they didn't follow through. Berle won't discuss it, other than to say, "It never worked out." Bob, who says he's never asked his mother about the resolution of her affair with Berle, spent his early years with her in New York, hanging around her show-people friends, as well as the music-business pals brought around by Gene Williams, the bandleader Standish married, post-Berle.
In 1956, after Gene Williams had departed the scene, Standish met and married an advertising executive. The couple had two children, and the executive moved the family, Bob Williams included, to the wild West: Scottsdale, Arizona. The ad man's hopes of establishing himself on the local advertising scene were not quickly fulfilled, and he left to resume his career in New York.
Standish supported her three children (Berle says he paid her child support for Bob) by working in the retail clothing business, and operated her own stores in Scottsdale's Fifth Avenue shopping district and out near Sun City. She specialized in "an upscale, New York look for the working woman," says Bob. Later, she went into real estate. "Mom would go to all the Little League games and all the Boy Scout meetings," says Bob. "She did a helluva job."