He's also an accomplished musician and child author who just released his seventh children's book called "Mahalia Mouse Goes to College," which comes with a CD of Lithgow reading the story.
Lithgow said he tries to use his books to get kids interested and involved in the arts. He first read this story as part of his keynote address at Harvard's commencement in 2005. He said after agreeing to do the speech, he panicked.
"What do I say? And I thought, 'Well, I'm an actor, I better entertain them and finish big.' So I wrote a children's book for the occasion and presented it to the graduating class as my gift to them," he told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. "It's dedicated to the Harvard class of 2005."
It's a tale of a mouse that lives with her family under Dunster House, an old Harvard dormitory. While foraging for food, she gets trapped in a backpack and then finds herself inside a classroom. Mahalia, intrigued by the lecture, starts attending classes and soon becomes a popular full-time student, all the while wondering about the fate of her family.
Some of the story was inspired by the controversy going on at Harvard at the time. The former university president questioned a woman's ability to work in the sciences and Lithgow, a Harvard graduate, saw his book as a "cheerful and constructive response to the crisis."
Not only does the book feature a female mouse that gets a degree in human psychology, but it also uses advanced language because Lithgow says it will encourage children to be curious about language.
"And all my books, as I say, they're all intended to give kids a good time," Lithgow said. "But they all have an agenda. They are there to get them thinking about the arts. And education and — and the use of language. I don't shy away from, well, words like imprudence. My ideal is for a child to listen to a story read by a parent and to say, 'Mom, what does peregrination mean?' and for the mom to actually not know."
Read an excerpt of the book here. "Mahalia Mouse Goes to College" is published by Simon & Schuster, a subsidiary of CBS.