CFP All About Bette: The Cultural Legacies of Bette Davis 

Posted on Mar 2, 2018

All About Bette: The Cultural Legacies of Bette Davis 

Northwestern University, October 5-6, 2018 

Join us in a two-day conference 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. 

Possible topics include 

Smoking (as an industry/as an aesthetic/as a politic) 

Melodrama and the woman’s film 


Modern femininity 


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 

Send proposals of approximately 150 words to Julia Stern ( and Melissa Bradshaw ( by April 23, 2018

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