CFP: All About Bette: The Cultural Legacies of Bette Davis: Northwestern University, October 5-6, 2018 

This is a notification of a call for papers regarding a two-day conference at Northwestern University about all things Bette Davis, from the industries that created her to the actress herself as an industry. Davis remains emblematic of the historical era of Classical Hollywood Cinema (1929-1960), the aesthetic practices we describe as modernist, and the political practices we describe as feminist. What would it mean to read Bette Davis as modernist? How does Davis operate as a node that allows us to think about the reach of mass culture in shaping (and historicizing) early twentieth century conceptions of femininity, sexuality, embodiment, and agency?

An actress unafraid to play unlikeable women, Davis regularly wrested directorial and production power away from men, earning her the title of “the Fourth Warner Brother” and transforming her from star to auteur. While there is a significant body of work on Davis in film and media scholarship, she has only made a few appearances in literary and cultural studies, primarily in feminist and queer discussions of this period, as in Lauren Berlant and Theresa de Lauretis’s readings of Now, Voyager. This conference seeks to build on that work, exploring the many ways in which Davis was central to mass and popular culture during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Send proposals of approximately 150 words to Julia Stern: e-mail:

Possible topics include 

  • Smoking (as an industry/as an aesthetic/as a politic)
  • Melodrama and the woman’s film
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Modern femininity
  • Bitchiness
  • Davis and/as drag
  • Davis and literary adaptations (Maugham, Hellman, Strachey, Prouty)
  • Davis on Broadway (Ibsen, Williams, Sandburg)
  • The artist vs. the contract system
  • Gay iconicity
  • Material artifacts—publicity materials, costumes
  • Immaterial artifacts: the persistence of Davis in the internet age
  • Davis’s make-up artists/costume designers (Perc Westmore, Orry-Kelly, Edith Head etc.)
  • Davis’s directors (William Wyler, King Vidor, Irving Rapper, Edmund Goulding, Joseph Mankiewicz, Robert Aldrich, etc.)
  • Davis and racial representation
  • Davis and whiteness
  • Davis and the historical imagination
  • Davis and WWII