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, were Jewish immigrants who 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.
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):