The Life of Jane Feuer
Dr. Jane Feuer passed away at her home in Pittsburgh on Friday, January 8, 2021, after a battle with cancer. Dr. Feuer was born in Cincinnati on April 24, 1951, and grew up in Ohio. She completed an undergraduate degree in English at Indiana University in 1973 and then went on to earn both a master’s degree (1975) and doctorate (1978) in broadcasting and film from the University of Iowa’s Department of Communication. In 1981 Dr. Feuer joined the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses for nearly 40 years. Dr. Feuer was one of the defining figures in the burgeoning field of television studies and earned an international reputation for her work on television as well on popular film, the Hollywood musical, and cultural studies. In 1989 she helped found Console-ing Passions, a feminist media studies conference that held its first conference in 1992 and continues to meet regularly. Dr. Feuer was the author of two pathbreaking and superbly crafted books, The Hollywood Musical and Seeing Through the Eighties: Television and Reaganism, as well as the co-editor of MTM: Quality Television. Her numerous articles and book chapters also became foundational to the fields she helped to develop. Dr. Feuer was also highly in demand as a public speaker, both for academic events around the world and for those within the media industry. Over the course of her career she held fellowships at Cornell University, Curtin University in Australia, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany, and the University of Tübingen, where she was the Fulbright German Distinguished Chair in American Studies.
This list of accomplishments might suggest someone stuffy and pretentious. Dr. Feuer was neither. She was plain-spoken, down to earth, and frequently hilarious: her wit was as sharp as her scholarship. Tributes arriving from around the world testify to her capacity to make and keep friends. None of them were more important than her partner for four decades, the late Kathie Ferraro. Dr. Feuer was a consummate scholar and critic of media, but she also simply loved movies and television. When asked why she went to graduate school, she replied that someone in Iowa had offered her money to watch movies for five years, so it seemed like a good idea. At conferences around the world, she would bond with colleagues old and new over, for example, identifying with the character of Brenda on the long-running television series “Rhoda”—and then go right back to the serious business at hand, which she never took too seriously.
In addition to her academic work, Dr. Feuer was also an enthusiastic and dedicated volunteer and supporter of the animal rescue organization Animal Advocates through which she fostered and helped find homes for a great number of cats and kittens. She and Kathie always had two cats of their own, which were adored and spoiled. Dr. Feuer also had an unparalleled collection of glass Christmas ornaments, a small portion of which she proudly displayed in a pie case she purchased from the Squirrel Hill restaurant Gullifty’s when it closed in 2013. (Two adjacent windows had to be ripped out to get the case in the house.) Late in life Dr. Feuer began to collect and frame vintage American Christmas cards, often giving them to her friends. In 2019, the Memories of Christmas Past Exhibit in Youngstown, Ohio, featured a display of these cards, to Dr. Feuer’s amused delight. She always insisted that collecting Christmas memorabilia was an utterly appropriate hobby for a Jewish pharmacist’s daughter from Cincinnati. Dr. Feuer also loved to eat, but in her characteristically iconoclastic fashion, she was not a foodie but an anti-foodie. She liked inexpensive diners and rich desserts, scanning the menu for specials and making remarks like, “Ooooh, Beef Stroganoff: my favorite 50s food.” Finally, Dr. Feuer was also a fierce advocate for people experiencing discrimination both in the academy and beyond. She served on and chaired the University of Pittsburgh’s Anti-Discrimination Policy Committee, which, among other things, worked to establish domestic partner policies at the university. With her wife Kathie she was also an active supporter of Pittsburgh’s Women’s Law Project.
Dr. Feuer was preceded in death by her parents, Irving Feuer and Marilyn Schwartz, as well as by her beloved wife Kathleen Ferraro. She is survived by her brother Jim Feuer (Sheryl); niece Sarah Phile (Josh); and nephews Aaron and Ben Feuer; great-nephews Nathan and Owen Phile and Joel Feuer; and a host of friends around the globe.
Jane will be laid to rest in Penn Forest Natural Burial Park, Verona. Memorial donations can be made to Console-ing Passions, www.console-ingpassions.org, or Women’s Law Project, 428 Forbes Ave Suite 1710, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, www.womenslawproject.org. Arrangements by Natural Funeral Company, 412-716-4435.
A celebration of Jane’s life will be held this Thursday, January 14, at 2:30 pm. This will be a virtual service coordinated by friends and live-streamed via Zoom.