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."
Bob says his mother would acknowledge her friendship with Berle during those years, whenever he popped up on TV, and would freely reminisce with her kids about some of her adventures with Berle in the New York social whirl. Known to Bob as "Uncle Milton," Berle never visited, and no photos of him were kept around the house. "Maybe my mother didn't want that piece of the puzzle around," says Bob.
But at Berle's request, Bob Williams would occasionally travel to see his "uncle" perform (at venues around the New York area first, and later in Las Vegas) and meet with him backstage after shows. "My first image of my father was literally going to see his live show on Long Island, at the Westbury Music Fair," says Bob. "He was a friend of the family. It was entertainment. I was getting to meet Milton Berle, that's all.
"My first reflections are of somebody who found me interesting. He used to want to know my interests, what I was doing. He'd always bring me close, like he's looking me over. There'd be times when he'd look and stop and look back in the mirror. 'Are you listening to me? Uncle Milton's telling you the truth.'" Bob recalls the later trips to Vegas as great, coming-of-age adventures. "He'd try jokes on me he knew I didn't understand," he says. "He let me smoke my first cigar, and there were always pretty women around. I could do half of my father's act by the time I was out of high school. "I remember his coming by my room. I said, 'Aren't you a little early?' And he said, 'C'mon, c'mon, c'mon.' We went right to the casino and he started dealing. Then people would shout, 'Uncle Miltie's at the table.' Every once in a while, he let me have a taste of this other world."
Away from his father-to-be, Bob's world was high school sports, horseback riding, competitive judo, music (he's always maintained an interest in big-band jazz, fostered by Gene Williams) and part-time jobs. Interested in broadcasting as a career, Bob began to stick his foot in doors when he got out of school. He also did some sportswriting for the Scottsdale Progress. Eventually, his broadcasting aspirations would take him to on-air jobs for big-band/easy-listening KXIV-FM, big-band KLFF-FM and both the AM and FM sides of oldies outlet KOOL (his work for KOOL-AM was carried via satellite to some 50 markets). There would also be a stint in the Air Force and off-and-on employment for over ten years with the Bobby McGee's restaurant chain, for which he worked as a manager and a club deejay.
Bob saw little of his Uncle Milton during those years. Berle had married his second wife, Ruth Cosgrove, in the early 1950s, and the couple later adopted a son. Berle had earlier adopted a daughter, and Bob figures Berle was devoting most of his parental energy to them during the years that Berle and Bob drifted apart. (Says Berle: "I was with them all the time, but I've never forgotten Robert, and never will.") Bob says he began to seriously consider the possibility that Berle was more than an uncle after catching a glimpse of him on a late-night talk show in the late 1970s. "I was paying more attention to detail then," he says.