Joseph L. Wiley, Jr.,
“The best-dressed man in New Hope”, passed away on March 7th in the Buckingham Valley Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Buckingham, PA. He was 89 years old. Born in Philadelphia to the late Joseph L Wiley, Sr. and Marie (Defeo) Wiley, Joe resided in Atlantic City and New York City before moving to New Hope in 1960.
Joe was very proud of his military service. He was an Army veteran and served as a Communications Officer at the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. He received the American Theater Campaign Ribbon, Battle of the Bulge Campaign Ribbon, a Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal and Army Occupation Ribbon for his valiant service.
He was a professional dancer and toured during the early 1950s in Brigadoon for 5 years. In 1954 he went to Sweden and danced in the Swedish ballet for several years. After returning from Sweden, he continued his career dancing in New York eventually moving to New Hope where several of his friends had settled. Joe was co-owner of several businesses in New Hope, most notably the Crystal Palace.
This restaurant on the river served wonderful food and was the place to be seen. Famous stars from The Bucks County Playhouse and the Music Circus made it their business to dine there so everyone knew they were in town. Joe owned a kooky gift shop on North Main Street called Kaleidoscope and also had a permanent store at Rice’s Market (in Solebury) selling interesting and funny signs and novelties. After selling his store, he worked at The Broadmoor Antiques in Lambertville until his retirement a few years ago.
Joe was an avid student of the human condition.
He wrote a column for The New Hope Gazette called Pandora’s Box recalling the early days in New Hope and some of his many adventures. He was witty and funny; had an interesting opinion about most things. He liked to laugh and was usually the center of attention wherever he went. He loved to travel, especially to Paris and his fabulous home reflected his experiences there. He led a life well lived and enjoyed a busy and varied social life, entertaining often and doing it extremely well.
He was the partner of the late Joe Meo and brother of the late Benjamin Wiley. He is survived by his former sister-in-law, Christine Koumides of Fort Lauderdale, FL, and many dear friends. Joe loved animals, adopting many over the years, each bearing the name of a character from ‘Gone with The Wind’. Any memorial gifts may be sent to the Bucks County SPCA, PO Box 277, Lahaska, PA 18931 or www.bcspca.org
The Gilded Closet: The Swank World of Gay Gents in New York
by Tom Beer – THE VILLAGE VOICE (June 20-26, 2001) – Joe Wiley
This is a story about the gilded closet that young homosexual men fashioned for themselves in New York City during the postwar years. In those days, Manhattan was an extravagant playground. The currency of the age was wealth and looks. If you didn’t have the former you could trade off the latter.
The swank world of these gents was a clandestine network of cruising and socializing that took place not in an alternate gay universe but right in the midst of the straight venues of the time. It was a contradictory world: founded on the pleasure principles of sex and fun but at the same time snobbish and insular. It depended on secrecy, both stifling and perversely thrilling Joe Wiley was 20 when he arrived in New York in 1946, just out of the army.
He came from a middle-class family in Philadelphia, but his dream was to be a dancer in New York and meet famous people. Everybody told him he could make it: “I was very, very handsome. Looked like Tony Curtis,” Joe recalls. There were no velvet ropes at most of the top nightclubs back then. If you had class, you could get in. Joe went out and bought himself the uniform: a gray flannel suit, a pair of black tasseled loafers, a pink button-down Brooks Brothers shirt, a black knit tie, and he could go anywhere. “To the opera, the gay bars, the Russian Tea Room, the Oak Room. Anywhere.”
So Joe would go to a famous supper club, Tony’s, on West 52nd down the block from “21,” and order a bowl of spaghetti and listen to chanteuse Mabel Mercer work the room. Mercer herself was a real lesson in class: a regal black woman who sang show tunes with a very proper British accent, like somebody’s naughty dowager aunt. She had a huge gay following. Or Joe would go to the One Two Three Club on West 55th and sit at the bar nursing a martini (75 cents, if you please), while Noel Coward and Moss Hart and Cole Porter came and went. “I was just gaga,” says Joe. “I didn’t even really know who the fuck Cole Porter was, but before I knew it, there was a drink in front of me, and next thing I’m up in the Waldorf Towers in bed with him! And the following morning he put $50 in my pocket.” Not bad for a wide-eyed kid from Philly.
The calling card that gained him entry to this glamorous world was discretion. A gay man could circulate in cafe society, meeting hundreds of others like himself, so long as he didn’t call attention to his homosexuality.
“The Oak Room was very funny in those days,” Joe remembers. “They didn’t let women in, so consequently, it was a hangout for guys, and as long as you weren’t a flaming fairy, they’d let you in.” Joe and his friends would sit there looking debonair and cruise one another. “They didn’t necessarily condone it, but what could they do?” Men like Joe found themselves leaving the city and settling down, making homes with long-term partners. Joe followed his partner to New Hope, Pennsylvania, where they ran a restaurant and a general store together. Joe still lives there, age 75.
In spite of their anxieties, gay men were impelled toward a sense of playful mutual affection that seems quite innocent now. Gay life, especially sexual life, was coquettish, playful, even romantic. I get the feeling that it was all slightly sentimental, in the sense that maybe one man would sit at a piano and sing a love ballad to another.” Despite this paradox of innocence and shame, the world these men made for themselves was truly, wildly gay-in a way that can only be envied in this warier, self-serious age