Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gowns by Adrian

Gloria Swanson, playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard famously said, “We had faces then.” That’s true. But even more importantly, the female stars of Hollywood’s golden age had clothes.

Adrian Greenburg (1903-1959, shown at left with Greta Garbo in the pajamas he designed for her in The Single Standard (1929), generally known by the name Adrian alone, was a Connecticut born Hollywood costume designer famous for The Wizard of Oz and other MGM films of the 1930s and 1940s. During his 25-year career, “Gowns by Adrian” was a credit attached to more than 230 films. He created the padded shoulder look that Joan Crawford made famous. He dressed Greta Garbo* for virtually her entire movie career.

The December 1932 issue of Fortune magazine wrote an in-depth piece about MGM’s success. Focusing on Irving Thalberg, the studio executive in charge of production at the time, he said that the praise for MGM’s success should really go to two others – art director Cedric Gibbons and costume designer Gilbert Adrian, as he was known for a while (Gilbert Adrian was a combination of his and his father's first names).

Born Adrian Adolph Greenburg (his last name is often misspelled with three “e”s) on March 3, 1903, he graduated from Naugatuck High School (Connecticut) in 1920. His parents, Gilbert and Helena Greenburg, owned a millinery shop on Church Street.

Adrian studied art at the New York School for Fine Arts and Design (now the Parsons School of Design), then transferred to the school’s Paris campus, where American composer Irving Berlin admired one of Adrian’s costumes on a model. Seeking fresh material for his next project, Berlin asked Adrian to join him in New York to work on costume designs for the show Music Box Revue.

Although openly gay, in 1939 Adrian entered into a lavender marriage with actress Janet Gaynor, the lover of Mary Martin, in response to the anti-gay attitudes of movie studio heads, particularly Louis B. Mayer, who ran MGM studios.

In 1925 Adrian (at left) became head costume designer for Cecil B. DeMille's independent film studio. When DeMille moved to MGM, Adrian became chief costume designer at the studio, where he went on to design costumes for over 200 films. Among them were George Cukor's 1939 film, The Women, filmed in black and white; it originally included a 10-minute fashion parade in Technicolor, which featured Adrian's most outré designs. Often cut in TV screenings, the segment was restored to the film by Turner Classic Movies.

During this time, Adrian worked with some of the biggest female stars of the day like Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Jeanette MacDonald, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford. After leaving MGM, he established his own fashion house, which produced designs sold through Macy's department store. He also produced fragrances, notably"Saint" and "Sinner" perfumes and "Gilbert" cologne.

After suffering a heart attack in 1952, Adrian closed his business and retired to a ranch in Brazil, where he spent his time painting landscapes. He returned to California in 1958 to design costumes for two stage musicals. Before competing Camelot, he suffered a second, fatal heart attack in 1959 at the age of 56. However, there was rumor and speculation at the time that his death was actually a suicide.

*Garbo's film Camille (1936) is considered to be an entirely gay film, because every actor (notably Robert Taylor) and actress involved, as well as the director (Cukor) and all the designers, were either gay or bisexual.

Adrian's famous costume design for Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story (1940):



...and for Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight (1933):


...not to mention Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel (1932):


...and Miss Crawford again in Letty Lynton (1932):

3 comments:

  1. my comment was not posted so i will try again. just wanted to say how great it is that you let everyone know how talented gay men have always been. i remember knowing adrian must be gay and secretly reveling in the fact that i was not alone! thank you again terry for all your hard work!!!

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  2. Adrian was my maternal grandmother's brother. I am always pleased to see continued interest in Adrian's incredible talent. This article, like many others, state that my great grandparents were immigrants. However, they were both born in the U.S.

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