Gilbert Adrian was born Adrian Adolph Greenburg on March 3, 1903 in Naugatuck, Connecticut, United States, the son of Gilbert Greenburg and Helen Pollock, both of German-Jewish extraction. His parents, who operated a successful millinery shop, were competent artists, his father a local caricaturist, his mother a still-life painter. Adrian demonstrated an early talent for drawing. His favorite subject, wild animals, remained a lifelong inspiration. An uncle, Max Greenburg, a Broadway scenic designer, stimulated his interest in design for the theater.