Meryl Streep's First Shining Moment: Paying Off Her Student Loans

Meryl Streep
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Meryl Streep almost backed out of filming A Prairie Home Companion because of a painful recovery from knee surgery, but Garrison Keillor would have none of it. "I sat down, and in about 36 hours, I rewrote the script to put her in a wheelchair, to close the door so she couldn’t back out," he admitted to us at last night's Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute to the actress. "But she came; she arrived on time and she was fine. She could move around and dance and jump up and down," the radio legend explained. "But I was all set to put her in a wheelchair. A major rewrite, for which I never received credit." He laughed and then leaned into our tape recorder: "Until right now." Getting Garrison Keillor to rewrite a script that's been decades in the making, without even having to ask? Now that's a mark of extraordinary influence on the part of an actor. But when we asked Meryl herself when she felt she had truly arrived, she had a much simpler answer: "When I paid off my student loans," she told us without hesitation. "It took me two years. Pretty fast." We gaped. "It took me two years to pay off the work study, and then the rest of them took me about six more years," she explained. "It was big." —Bennett Marcus

Hear more about Meryl Streep from Jonathan Demme, Mike Nichols, Mamie Gummer, and others at our complete coverage of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute.