What Jamie Lee Curtis Learned from Her Mother, Iconic Actress Janet Leigh, About Giving Back

The actress, author and activist — and daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh — has launched a new charity benefitting Children's Hospital

jamie lee curtis and parents
Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis in 1991.

For more than 40 years, Jamie Lee Curtis has spent as much time in front of the camera (in films like 1978's Halloween, 1988's A Fish Called Wanda and 2019's Knives Out) as she has with her other passions: writing, activism, producing and directing.

As Curtis tells PEOPLE in this week's issue, she knows how to maximize her impact—and how to ″pivot.″ ″That’s my favorite word,″ she says. And she has, nimbly, from schlocky flicks (Terror Train) to major blockbusters (True Lies) to even yogurt commercials—without ever losing her humor. ″Hey, those commercials let me stay home with my kids," she shrugs.

But when she started out in Hollywood, as the child of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Curtis tells PEOPLE she hadn’t yet found her voice, which would one day advocate for the Special Olympics, education, AIDS research and children.

  • For more about Jamie Lee Curtis, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE

“I never thought I’d be an actor,” she remembers. “I thought I was going to be a police officer! I could barely get through high school. I got into the only college where my mother was the most famous graduate [University of the Pacific], and studied criminal justice—like Intro to Corrections 101. Then my freshman year I ran into somebody who suggested that I audition for Nancy Drew. It was a total accident.”

Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Guest, daughter Annie Guest and mother actress Janet Leigh. Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

But at home, she watched her mother, Hitchcock muse Janet Leigh, use her star power to raise money for those less fortunate. “My mother was incredibly philanthropic. She [worked with] a group of Hollywood wives who started an organization called SHARE—Share Happily and Reap Endlessly. It was a very small group who understood their power. They were married to big stars—of course, my mother was a star in her own right—and these women banded together and used their power. Over the years they’ve raised more than $50 million to support children’s charities.”

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Curtis says her mother’s roll-up-her sleeves attitude “had a huge impact on me. Philanthropy helped me find myself. At 30, I started really owning my voice, to try to help in certain areas. I wrote my first book. Then, ten years later, I got sober. [Curtis has been open about her struggle with addiction, which began with prescription painkillers, and her recovery.] And I think the combination of writing 13 children’s books and 21 years of sobriety has given me an absolute sense of my own power. Now I am putting my money, my time, my creativity toward things that matter to me.”

What matters the most to Curtis is My Hand in Yours. “I’ve been closing letters with ‘My hand in yours’ for years,” Curtis says.

In August, she launched the website to benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Artists and jewelry designers such as Anne Ricketts, Moye Thompson, Simon Pearce and Cathy Waterman create everything from jewelry to journals.

Curtis underwrites all the cost of production and 100 percent of sales benefit children in need of medical care.

“My Hand in Yours was created as a way to connect that part of my life to some sort of advocacy," she says. "Because, if ever there was a time certainly in my lifetime where people need comfort and connection, it's now.”

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