Longform

THERE WAS SOMETHING FUNNY ABPIT "UNCLE MILTIE"AFTER 42 YEARS, MILTON BERLE AND HIS SECRET LOVE CHILD-SCOTTSDALE'S BOB WILLIAMS-TELL THEIR STORY

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When Berle visited in the early 80s for a stand at a local dinner theatre, Bob got a chance to absorb such details. Bob helped Berle backstage during that engagement, and would walk him around the building before every show, so Berle could make a big entrance from a side door. Berle, then 72, would hold on to Bob as they slowly made their way around the structure in the darkness. "I'd catch these things, like, 'Dammit, son, I can't walk that fast,'" says Bob. Then, in 1984, came the wedding-day confession, which did not drastically change Bob's life. He continued to pursue a career in the restaurant business, moving with his new wife (the marriage lasted about a year and a half) to chase jobs with the Bobby McGee's chain in Colorado and Texas. Finally burned out on the dinner-house trade, and minus a marriage, Bob relocated back to Phoenix and got serious about his acting, broadcasting and modeling career. Since then he's handled public-address duties for the Phoenix Suns for one season (one of Bob's dreams is to do play-by-play for a Major League Baseball team; he's been the spring-training PA voice of the San Francisco Giants for several years), and he was the longtime commercial voice of America West Airlines, as well as a featured performer on an in-flight video magazine produced by the airline. He's also done featured spots in industrial films and national television commercials. Bob's rsum, which describes him as "actor, emcee, broadcaster," also lists bit parts in several movies made locally.

Bob, who now pays the rent by working at Ford & Haig, a premium-tobacco store in Scottsdale, says he has never tried standup comedy. "I'm not a good joke teller," he says. "I'm a lousy joke teller, but I can handle a one-liner here and there." The relationship between famous father and not-yet-famous son has strengthened in recent years, Bob says. The two speak on the phone regularly, and Bob travels to visit Berle in Beverly Hills several times per year. Bob, who lived half his life without knowing that his daddy was a living legend, could feel some justifiable bitterness about his situation. But he doesn't. Bob manages to retain a sense of wonder about Berle, feels fortunate to know the truth and is pleased that he's regularly invited into his father's life. In 1991, Bob helped Berle work a brief string of one-nighters around the country, on a bill with classic comics Red Buttons and Henny Youngman. Working as his dad's personal assistant, Bob says he was amazed by his father's strength on stage, and witnessed the amazing transformation Berle would make in the seconds before stepping into the spotlight. "One minute, dad was sitting down on a stool, wheezing like an old man," Bob says. "Then he became a 20-year-old kid again. It's like the energy came out of nowhere. My dad's energy is unbelievable. People sometimes forget he's 85."

Aside from such brief, valet-type gigs, Berle has never offered to open doors for his son in the entertainment business. He has offered lots of advice. "He's taught me a lot of things about being in front of a crowd," says Bob, adding that he's never asked his dad to pull strings for him in Hollywood or anywhere else.

Until July, when the Star pulled the string on the family secret, Bob had never entertained the notion of capitalizing on his genetic good fortune. Bob doubts that much will change between him and Berle, who recently married for the fourth time and who continues, at age 85, to build a career. Berle is currently hawking tapes of his early broadcasting performances via home-shopping outlets, and he has signed to guest on TV's Matlock this fall.

"We do grow gradually closer and closer," says Bob. "Instead of talking to each other every couple of weeks, we're now talking weekly. He keeps me in touch with what he's doing and is very interested in what I'm doing. We share a love of sports, the entertainment business and a good cigar. But I don't see any of the notoriety changing our relationship at all."
But will it change the life of Bob Williams, who has struggled to make a name for himself as "actor, emcee, broadcaster"? Could Bob somehow parlay his Berle connection into career advancement? "My dream, personally, is to make it to the Show [baseball slang for "major leagues"], either as a sports commentator, game-show host or actor. I think my time will come, and I'm gonna make it happen, whether I'm known as Milton Berle's kid or Bob Williams."

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Dave Walker