Kiriki Metzo, daughter Woodstock legend Julio de Diego and imbued with a colorful history all her own died at home in her Westbeth apartment in lower Manhattan on November 3. She was 90 years old.
Despite an epic amorous life, artist Julio de Diego [1900-79], only fathered one child, Kiriki, by his first wife, Rosalynd Mallory, in Chicago in 1928. Though the family fell apart shortly after emigrating back to de Diego’s native Spain, in a rather ill-thought-out gesture he insisted upon returning to America, alone, with five year old Kiriki, in the midst of The Great Depression.
Julio’s financial improvisations during this period included murals for the home, popular among Chicago’s elite. His best customer was Mr. Paul G. Hoffman, who ran Studebaker, later The Ford Foundation, and eventually would oversee the post WWII Marshall Plan. An odd but strong friendship sprang up between the Hoffmans and this tireless Latin charmer, hard-put to raise a young daughter alone.
The Hoffmans saw the solution as simple. They would adopt Kiriki as their own, allowing Julio to visit as his wanderings allowed. Despite this generous offer, de Diego never allowed for a full adoption and so Kiriki merely remained the Hoffman’s ward (though she called Paul and Dorothy “Mother and Daddy” and their six other children, her “sisters and brothers.”)
Indeed, Kiriki enjoyed a charmed childhood of summers on the beach of Lake Michigan, while her swashbuckling pirate for a father would eventually end up with a vast studio in Manhattan and a small, secluded place in the art colony of Woodstock.
The Hoffmans first sent Kiriki to Putney, then to study art at Bennington where a friend once demanded: ““Who was that Wrath of God you were walking with?”
“That was no Wrath of God. That’s my father!”
In the spring of 1948 Kiriki attended a party with Julio on 63rd Street in New York City, hosted by the high-brow stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. It was a wild night which ended almost politely insofar as Gypsy thought Kiriki was Julio’s girlfriend. That mistake quickly amended, Gypsy and Julio became a favorite of gossip columnists the world over, especially after their tempestuous marriage was announced in 1948.
Kiriki became the step-daughter of Gypsy Rose Lee and the adopted big-sister to a little boy lost named Eric Lee (who would eventually learn his father was Otto Preminger.) Gypsy hosted Kiriki‘s bridal party in 1950 when she married Ben Newmark. Tragically, the newlyweds were involved in a car wreck at the tail end of their Mexican honeymoon. Ben was killed instantly and Kiriki lay unconscious and unidentified in hospital bed, occasionally mumbling: Sycamore6 8484. Contacted at this telephone number, the Hoffmans rescued her.
In the 1950’s Kiriki became involved with the jazz scene in New York City, married the psychologist and Jazz promoter Morris Eagle, and went to work for genius Charles Mingus at his record label, Debut Records. Motherhood awaited Kiriki’s third marriage to actor William (Bill) Metzo, and the 1966 arrival of their son, Vincent.
The new family soon shared Julio’s place in Woodstock at the peak of the artist’s celebrity, when de Diego and painters Fletcher Martin and Eduardo Chavez were socially inseparable and a rotating party remained integral to the creative heartbeat of the town. Add the fact that Bill Metzo became an instant hit at the Woodstock Playhouse, hosted infamous volleyball games, was fast pals with raconteur and mixologist John Brown (who’d soon marry and impregnate Susan), and that with Woodstock at an artistic changing of the guard— Kiriki, Bill, and tiny Vincent found themselves at the center of it all.
As new mothers, Kiriki and Susan Brown even began their own fully organic line of “Green Door Baby Food.” ( The name indeed derived from the infamous pornographic film Behind The Green Door, starring Marilyn Chambers. For, after its release, Ivory Snow banned Marilyn-with-infant-in-arms from their soap box. And so Green Door Baby Food — but for problems in distribution — would right that terrible wrong.)
After the wall fell off their sublet, Kiriki and Bill took up winter residence in the Greenwich Village artist’s complex Westbeth, where, after their divorce Kiriki remained. After Julio’s death in ’79 she assumed the executorship of his estate and legacy, maintaining passionate Woodstock friendships with Sara Kunyoshi, Nancy Angeloch, et al. After a long career as a history teacher at many of New York’s private schools, including Calhoun, Friends and finally St. Hilda’s and St. Hughes’ from where she retired, Kiriki became a devoted grandmother, a deeply committed student of puppeteering, returned to her own long-neglected art, volunteered in charity work and as an exercise instructor, and granted me an interview a few years back…in which she filled in many blanks, in a rich balancing act of a life.
Loved by many in both Woodstock and Manhattan, Kiriki will be celebrated in a memorial at 1 p.m. in the Community Room of Westbeth (155 Bank Street, NYC 10014) on Saturday, Dec. 15. Kiriki is survived by her sister Barbara (the last of the Hoffmans) a half-brother, C.H. Mallory (by her biological mother), her son Vincent, and his sons, Cole and Duke.