Curtis: I wish it weren’t as important, because there are a lot of more important things to talk about, quite frankly. I gave a speech recently and spoke right after Victoria Rowell. She’s an actress and an author, and she was in foster care for 18 years. What she had to say was really moving. At a turning point in her life, someone told her that she didn’t have to be a product of her fate, that she could be a product of her actions. And when I got up to talk, I was very moved. Because I’ve spent a lot of my life being a product of fate, which is, you know, fighting against what people assumed of me. The silver-spoon assumption about me was something I needed to defy. It’s such an old tape that it’s an eight-track, but it still works: I had nothing but privilege all my life because I am the daughter of the movie stars Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. So ultimately, I still have to say, I’ve never received a penny from my family. And I mean a penny.
People often feel that because my family is a particular kind of family, I have to be a particular kind of person. But off that calcified lump of a family, it’s very hard to create an individual life. The essential you may be very different from that calcified lump that you’re attached to. That’s where my hope lies.
A friend of mine gave me a book of meditations. I’m not a big meditator. I’d like to be — it’s a goal. So far, I’m resisting. But I picked up this book, and it said that at the time of death, people who live mindfully ask themselves just two questions. Period. Now, every single day, I ask myself the questions: Did I learn to live wisely? Did I love well?
Curtis on Her Parents’ Influence
Wallace: Your mother died in 2004. What changes has that brought for you?
Curtis: It’s been two years now since she died. I’ve been able to let her go. And because of that, I’ve been able to take care of her husband, Bob, in a way that would have been hard for her to do, and I’ve made changes in her house that she might not have been comfortable making. But I also appreciate my mother deeply for what she was able to do, given her circumstances. I have been able to honor her more.
I need to be careful here. My father had nothing to do with my raising. That isn’t a statement of anger. I have a perfectly lovely relationship with him. But my mother and my step-father raised me and my sister, Kelly. My mother instilled very good qualities in both of us, and I give her all the credit for it, although we may not have had this deeply emotional bond that you would like to have with your mother.
So I clearly have sought that bond from other people. That’s where my girlfriends have come in. I have learned to be the woman I am today because of my girlfriends. My mother taught me a business ethic, a professional ethic; she taught me a basic kindness and gave me a very grounded sense. But it was my women friends who taught me how to be a woman. They have really shown me the way that you would hope a mother would.
Wallace: When you adopted your two kids, did you feel as if you had to teach yourself how to parent?
Curtis: Yes. As my friend Naomi Foner [a screenwriter and mother of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal] says, "Raising a child is the only relationship you have where if you do it right, it will end in separation." The goal is that they have their own mind. Not your mind. Not your parents’ minds. Their own mind. That they go to a school that they want to go to, not that you went to. That they are doing jobs that they are interested in, not because that’s what my mom or dad did.
Curtis on Friendships & Marriage
Wallace: You’ve called Foner and your other girlfriends your Estrogen Posse.
Curtis: Yes. My friends have basically fertilized me. In every way. And out of all of that, I’ve come to exist as an individual flower of my own creation. I always thought I was some sort of cutting from each of those plants. But I have truly come into my own. For better or worse, by the way.