(If you have not yet taken “How Well Do You Know Adrian?” click here to go straight to the quiz.)
Born on March 3rd, 1903, Adrian Adolph Greenburg reigns as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated and influential costume designers. This 11-question quiz highlights some of his best-known films and the iconic women he worked with during his MGM years.
Question #1: Adrian designed many looks for Greta Garbo during their years at MGM; this was their first film together, with Garbo starring opposite John Gilbert.
Answer: Adrian designed the costumes for 19 Greta Garbo films over 13 years at MGM, including Mata Hari, Camille, Anna Christie and Ninotchka, but his first costume work for the star was also his first official assignment at MGM: for A Woman of Affairs, co-starring John Gilbert, in 1928.
Question #2: Among Adrian’s fab designs for Joan Crawford for this 1932 film was this dress, which was widely copied and became synonymous with the film’s title.
Answer: Letty Lynton. The 1932 film starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery features a variety of glamorous costumes befitting Crawford’s role as the titular New York socialite, but it was one gown for a Christmas-party scene, crafted in white organdy with lush ruffles along the shoulders and hemline, that caused a nationwide fashion craze. It’s estimated that up to a half-million copies of the “Letty Lynton dress,” as it became known, were manufactured following the film’s release.
Question #3: Adrian’s designs for Jean Harlow in this 1933 film set a trend in evening gowns that continues to this day.
Answer: Dinner at Eight. Not unlike the dress from Letty Lynton, the silk bias-cut gown Harlow wears for the climactic dinner scene in this 1933 film, directed by George Cukor, also was widely copied. Adrian and Harlow would work on nine films together before she unexpectedly died of kidney failure in 1937, at the age of 26.
Question #4: Of all Adrian’s work at MGM, this 1938 film starring Norma Shearer was widely regarded to be the most lavish example of costumes ever seen onscreen.
Answer: Marie Antoinette. Adrian’s research on the biopic of France’s queen was unprecedented: He visited France and Austria in 1937, purchasing laces and antiques to bring back to Hollywood, and examined paintings of Marie Antoinette with a microscope so he could take careful note of the embroideries on her gowns. Adrian wrote later that he designed every gown, shoe and wig himself — including 34 looks for Shearer alone — and the results weren’t a labor only for his wardrobe department, but for the actors as well. The wedding gown Shearer wears when Marie Antoinette marries Louis XVI soon after her arrival at Versailles, for example, was crafted of white satin and embellished with beading and gilt-thread embroidery; it was estimated to weigh 108 lbs.
Question #5: Adrian’s fame led to his request that a fashion-show sequence be included in this 1939 film starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.
Answer: The Women. Directed by George Cukor, The Women was filmed in black and white, but Adrian’s fashion-show sequence, featuring a succession of increasingly dramatic designs, was filmed in brilliant Technicolor. His power at MGM must have been considerable: Cukor later told TCM host Robert Osbourne that he didn’t care for the six-minute sequence and wished it wasn’t in the film.
Question #6: Also in 1939, Adrian worked with Garbo on this film; her character trades her serious wardrobe for a few Paris designs, including a hat that continues to rile some film fans.
Answer: Ninotchka. Garbo plays a no-nonsense Soviet official, but as she begins to experience life in 1930s Paris and falls in love with Leon, played by Melvyn Douglas, she experiences a fashion transformation as well, and in one scene wears a funnel-shaped hat that continues to polarize fans of the film. Adrian crafted the hat from a sketch Garbo herself provided, he said, noting that her taste was unusual. “Garbo isn’t fond of the fashionable hat of the moment,” he once said, according to the 2015 book Creating the Illusion: A Fashionable History of Hollywood Costume Designers, by Jay Jorgensen and Donald L. Scoggins. “Nor is she fond of the fashionable hair dress. As she does not wear her hair in a way that suits the current hats and is very fond of personal-looking ones, they are apt to appear rather unusual to the eyes accustomed to the prevailing mode.”
Question #7: True or false: Adrian changed the color of the ruby slippers from their original shade in L. Frank Baum’s book.
Answer: True. In L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, Dorothy’s shoes are silver. However, Louis B. Mayer knew he was spending a fortune on the Technicolor process for the 1939 film starring Judy Garland, so he decreed that every detail seen onscreen in the Oz-set scenes should be bursting with color. Billie Burke’s wand as Glinda the Good Witch was changed from clear crystals to crystals in a rainbow of colors, while Dorothy’s shoes likewise required a change. A 1938 script for The Wizard of Oz discovered in a vault confirms the change, with a description for silver shoes crossed out, and “ruby” added.
Question #8: Adrian didn’t work with Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, but he did design her costumes for this film, in which she plays a ballet dancer, the following year.
Answer: Waterloo Bridge. Leigh plays a ballet dancer in an ill-fated romance with a World War I army officer; a remake of a 1931 film directed by James Whale (itself based on a play by Robert E. Sherwood), this version directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Leigh takes great pains to make her character more virtuous than its predecessor, hence her career as a ballet dancer, complete with an elegant performance costume in white tulle, designed by Adrian. Even with a pair of Academy Awards for Gone With the Wind and A Streetcar Named Desire, Waterloo Bridge was reportedly Leigh’s favorite film role.
Question #9: This 1941 film also boasts an extravaganza of looks by Adrian and stars Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and Judy Garland.
Answer: Ziegfeld Girl. Not unlike his work for Marie Antoinette, Ziegfeld Girl allowed Adrian the opportunity to design fantastical costumes for actresses appearing in the Ziegfeld show sequences, which were directed by Busby Berkeley (the rest of the film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard). Lamarr’s costume with stars framing her head ultimately would become one of her most iconic looks.
Question #10: Some of Adrian’s best work for Joan Crawford was seen in this 1940 film, which also starred a young Rita Hayworth.
Answer: Susan of God. Crawford wears a succession of highly stylized looks in this 1940 film, directed by George Cukor. In the 2019 Rizzoli book Adrian: A Lifetime of Movie Glamour, Art and High Fashion, excerpts from Adrian’s journals make it clear that while he never felt close to Crawford, he respected her style. “Joan Crawford was an enormous fashion influence,” he wrote. “She carried the banner of American fashion throughout the world. I did not design subtle fashions for her. Because her beauty had a poster-like quality, bold and clean-cut, I painted her image with a contrasting brush. I enjoyed creating her clothes and was vitally interested in them.”
Question #11: A decade after he left MGM, Adrian returned to design the costumes for this film, an event that was worthy of mention in the trailer.
Answer: Lovely to Look At. After a decade away from MGM, the studio asked Adrian to return to design the costumes for 1952’s Lovely to Look At, a remake of 1935’s Roberta, starring Irene Dunne. Kathryn Grayson stars in the updated film, which was directed by Mervyn Leroy and shares little with the original aside from the Paris fashion-house setting. But like the original, a fashion-show sequence is key to the film’s climax and was directed by an uncredited Vincente Minnelli. MGM clearly thought Adrian’s name was an audience draw, as it’s featured in the original trailer.