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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,575


This is the grave of Adrian.

Born in 1903 in Naugatuck, Connecticut, Adrian Greenburg grew up in a Jewish immigrant household that was upwardly mobile. Interested in art from the time he was a kid, Greenburg went to the New York School for Fine and Applied Arts, which is today the Parsons School, and studied costume design. He then went to Paris. While there, Irving Berlin contacted the young man to create the costumes for his upcoming debut of Music Box Revue of 1922–23 in New York. So he was a very young and rapidly rising artist in the world of theater costume design.

But it would not be theater where Adrian–he very much preferred being only known by his first name and I wonder if he was trying to hide his Jewish background in doing so–would make his mark. Nope, it was Hollywood. His buddy Rudolph Valentino and said legend’s wife Natacha Rambova asked him to come to Hollywood to work on the design for their new production company. The company went belly up pretty quickly, but Adrian stayed. Cecil B. DeMille hired him in 1925 to produce for his lavish films and he went with DeMille to MGM in 1928.

As a costume designer, Adrian was basically in charge of making Hollywood actresses look glamorous. He was good at that. Most of the leading actresses of the day were in thrall with him. That included Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, I could go on. He was Garbo’s personal designer at MGM from 1928 until 1941, which is a heck of a run. Among his most influential creations at this time was the the fancy hat she wore in the 1930 film Romance that sparked a sensation. Additionally, the suits he created for Crawford with shoulder pads also had an influence in the fashion world of the 30s. Actors loved his evening gowns, always making them look great in the movies.

Oh, and Adrian designed the ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz. That alone places his work in the immediate memory of like most of the country. He did the rest of the costumes for the film as well. So you are all familiar with his work even if you have never heard of him before.

In 1941, Adrian left MGM to go independent. He figured he was big enough to escape the studio monopolies and really make money. The final straw was George Cukor and Louis Mayer disagreeing with him on how to dress Greta Garbo in Two-Faced Woman. Mayer was shocked. It was just a disagreement! But he also wanted his own fashion line. So he established Adrian, Ltd. in Beverly Hills to be a fashion shop for the stars. Working with Pola Stout, a major designer in her own right, he basically filled the gap that opened when Paris had things to do such as being occupied by the Nazis rather than provide the world’s finest fashions. For the rest of the decade, he was arguably the most important clothing designer in the United States, at least for women’s clothing. The 1950s saw new values, new designs, the return of Paris of course, etc., but that doesn’t diminish Adrian’s importance in the fashion world at the time.

Now, Adrian was openly gay. In 1939 though, he and Janet Gaynor married and they stayed together until death. In fact, Gaynor is buried next to him, though she gets her own post, I mean c’mon, she’s Janet Gaynor. It was widely believed that Gaynor was bisexual as well, so this just kind of covered both of them. They had a son together too in 1940. What can one say, sexuality is complicated.

In 1952, Adrian had a heart attack. At this point, he sold the business. He simply didn’t trust anyone else to run it. He wasn’t supposed to work much after this. He did take quite a few years off. He and Gaynor bought a big estate in Brazil. They lived the high life with their friends. But he couldn’t really stay away from long. What else was he going to do? By 1958, he was working again, doing the costumes for a play in LA called At the Grand, which was a stage adaptation of the film Grand Hotel from the early 30s. He then started designing costumes for a new Broadway musical titled Camelot. But while in his studio, he had another heart attack and this one was fatal. He was 56 years old.

Adrian is buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California.

Adrian never won an Oscar for Best Costume Design because the category didn’t exist until 1948 and by then, he wasn’t working many films. But if you would like this series to visit people who have won this award, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Interestingly, at first, there were two categories–one for color film and one for black and white. That ended only after the 1966 Oscars. Edith Head, who won a mere 8 Oscars, including for All About Eve, A Place in the Sun, Sabrina, and The Sting (oh is that all), is in Glendale, California. Edward Stevenson, who won for The Facts of Life in 1960 (Head worked with him on this film so it’s one of her eight as well), is in Pocatello, Idaho. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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