Some of the most defining figures in pop culture from the 1980s can be traced back to television shows. It makes perfect sense. It was a time when the three television networks reigned supreme. Cable television didn’t have a strong foothold just yet and the idea of streaming channels was something not even imagined. The broadcasting landscape was far less limited than it is today.
Those more narrow television offerings created the age of ‘water cooler television’. Meaning television programs would air and a whole lot of people would watch them at the same time. These collective viewings by most of the population would be the topic of conversations the following day, around the proverbial ‘water cooler’. “Hey did you see what that Alexis Carrington did last night?”
Television in the 1980s gave birth to lots of shows that became quintessential ‘Must Watch’ rituals and were emblematic of the decade. Miami Vice, Dynasty, The A-Team, Dallas, Cheers, Alf. Even if you didn’t see the latest episode, everyone knew what the titles were and at the very least were casually familiar with them.
Before television watching splintered audiences into fragmented isolated entities thanks to cable, streaming, computers and OnDemand offerings, television was a shared communal experience. Compared to today, ratings for network television shows, even average shows in the 1980s, had much larger audiences. Millions of viewers tuned in to watch them. Television sitcoms and dramas featured actors and personalities who would become part of the zeitgeist of the radical ’80s.
Americans also love their game shows! Seemingly out of that busy television static of programs back then, Wheel of Fortune soared in popularity and famed letter turner Vanna White became one of the most popular women in the 1980s.
While her basic role was to simply help fill in the letters of television’s version of hangman, everyone was captivated by her and she became one of the most famous television stars of the era. Her surprising rocket to stardom and the frenzied adulation of her that swept across the country was dubbed by the media as ‘Vanna-Mania’.
Yes. Vanna White was so incredibly popular in the 1980s, she got bestowed the same moniker of fandom that was used to describe the cultural impact the Beatles had on music and the youth of the world in the 1960s. She created a full-blown ‘Mania’!
A band or pop group creating a ‘Mania’ amongst teen fans seems reasonable, but a co-hostess on a game show igniting a ‘Mania’? How does that make any sense?
Younger viewers might not realize just how big a deal Vanna White was during the ’80s. There was something about the grace, glamour and classy way Vanna revealed those letters that made her idolized and everyone went nuts over her.
Sure, everyone knows who she is today, they’re familiar with her name and the Wheel of Fortune show, but not all were around when the entire country was gripped by Vanna-Mania.
Vanna has gotten attention recently, with the announcement that Wheel host Pat Sajak will be retiring after the 41st season of the show. This has left fans wondering – How will this affect Vanna? Will she stay with the show? Will the producers meet her salary demands? Why wasn’t she chosen to replace Sajak as the host? Why on earth would they choose Ryan Seacrest to replace Sajak?!?! Is there anyone else to host shows besides Seacrest? No one could ever replace Vanna!
While some might mistakenly categorize Vanna as a ‘game show model’, she’s technically defined as a co-hostess on the show. Although, it was never like she and Sajak had any long verbal discussions on the show or anything like that. She wasn’t like Sajak’s Ed McMahon-type of sidekick and they were bouncing witty repartee back and forth the whole time. Pat and Vanna would walk out together, then she would stand by the big puzzle board while Sajak and the contestants would spin the big wheel and choose letters.
Granted Vanna would be on camera A LOT! And that’s only because the big puzzleboard was the thing that contestants and viewers were trying to solve. Of course it would have to be onscreen for long durations of the show. So audiences got very familiar with Vanna standing alongside it. It’s a very unique job that could only exist in the crazy land of showbiz.
I don’t know if any Wheel of Fortune fan has ever calculated it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Vanna is on camera more than Sajak during an average episode. While Sajak might unquestionably talk more, I would think she must get many more minutes of airtime of being seen on the show.
It’s funny how a job of being a letter turner (and eventual letter tapper) who would applaud for contestants and possibly trade a few words with the host at the start and end of a show, turned Vanna White into such a television icon.
Vanna could have just reached the level of fame as The Price Is Right’s ‘Barker’s Beauties’. A game show model, that everyone thought was pretty and nice and that was about it. She would have enjoyed a limited amount of attention, eventually getting replaced on the show and ended up as one of those arbitrary television personalities that would come to be a time capsule of a long gone era of television.
But somehow Vanna was more than that. There was something about Vanna that caught everyone’s attention. It was during the 1980s and that rush of Vanna-Mania, where she was on every magazine cover, was offered countless endorsements, where she hit her peak in popularity.
In an 1992 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Vanna admitted that she was stunned by her massive popularity in the mid-1980s. ”I never understood it, and I still don’t. All I can guess is that it was the fans who watch and enjoy the show. They’re so loyal.”
Even after Vanna-Mania started to wane, the country caught its breath and composed itself, Vanna never completely disappeared. She didn’t become a temporary star that burned bright in the 1980s and flickered out, which so easily could have happened. Her liability and charisma kept her Wheel job secure and she made an entire career out of the gig. She stayed with the show and became a fixture on television for decades. Thanks to her longevity and devoted fans, Vanna became a game show legend.
By the way, the accurate term of Vanna’s duties is ‘activating’ the letters. So, how did Vanna manage to get her Wheel of Fortune gig any way?
THE BEGINNINGS OF WHEEL OF FORTUNE & VANNA WHITE
Wheel of Fortune was created by Merv Griffin from being inspired by the old game of hangman. He thought to add a big roulette-style wheel to the game, since he was always drawn to prize wheels in casinos.
It went through a few iterations in its early stages. The original 1973 pilot of the show went unsold. It was called Shopper’s Bazaar and had a lot of the basic ‘Wheel’ elements in it. There was the big wheel and contestants had to solve a word puzzle. Then there were other aspects to it that just weren’t working. After solving each puzzle the contestants would purchase prizes with the money they had just won.
There were a lot of kinks to be worked out. Griffin described the pilot as, “Wrong, it was all wrong.”
The game got some tinkering done to it, a few more pilots were made and finally Wheel of Fortune with host Chuck Woolery and co-hostess Susan Stafford premiered in 1975 on NBC.
Wheel became a success. It would soon become not only the highest rated game show, but the highest rated daytime show on television. It would become a regular daytime fixture with devoted fans tuning in everyday. For the next several years the Wheel spun around with Woolery and Stafford.
Vanna Marie Rosich was born on February 18, 1957 in South Carolina to parents Joan Marie and Miguel Angel Rosich. Vanna’s father left when she was just a few months old. When she was two, she was adopted by her stepfather, Herbert Stackley White Jr. and she took his name. It wasn’t until she was fourteen that Vanna learned that Stackley wasn’t her real father and Rosich was.
The name ‘Vanna’ means “God is gracious”. Vanna got her name from her grandmother’s next-door neighbor, who spelled her name ‘Vana’. She has said she never liked her name much, mainly because often people would consistently mispronounce it.
Young Vanna loved watching television. When she learned her actor uncle Christopher George was starring on the 1960s television show Rat Patrol, her dream of being on television began.
She went on to attend the Atlanta School of Fashion and Design, worked as a model and was a contestant in the 1978 Miss Georgia U.S.A. pageant. Vanna said one of her worst jobs was working for an Exxon event where she was dressed up in a tiger costume.
In 1980 Vanna left for Los Angeles with eyes on stardom. She was waiting tables at night and auditioning during the day. One big Hollywood contact Vanna had was Sylvester Stallone. They had met in Atlanta at a book show and maintained a friendship for years afterwards.
While the tabloids would often link them together romantically, Vanna has been insistent saying that it was untrue and they only remained friends. He would be someone she sought advice from when she was the new up-and-comer in LA.
Vanna scored a few bit acting parts in mostly forgettable films. She appeared in Gypsy Angels (1980), had a bit part in Looker (1981) and a small role in the high school thriller Graduation Day (1981). Her most memorable early appearance was ironically being a contestant on a game show and it wasn’t Wheel of Fortune.
On June 20, 1980 an unknown Vanna was a contestant on The Price Is Right. She never made it from Contestants Row, but this early appearance of young Vanna on the popular game would be shown frequently on anniversary specials.
There’s a thought – Vanna could’ve been one of the famed Barker’s Beauties! Could you see her posing next to refrigerators, dishwashers and brand new cars?
While Vanna was busy trying to start a showbiz career, events began to unfold that would ultimately lead her to the job that would make her one of the most recognized women of television.
In 1981, Woolerly asked Griffin for a raise. It seemed reasonable. Wheel of Fortune was drawing big ratings numbers, so Woolery felt he deserved the same pay as other popular game show hosts at that time, like Richard Dawson on Family Feud and Bob Barker on The Price Is Right.
They weren’t able to come to an agreement of a raise, so Woolery’s final day as host of Wheel would be on Christmas Day 1981. Woolery’s tenure as host of Wheel of Fortune is largely forgotten by younger fans today. I guess the idea that anyone hosting the show other than Sajak seems inconceivable. But yes, Wheel of Fortune was already an extremely popular show long before Sajak and Vanna came along.
Griffin would select what some thought as an odd choice as Woolery’s replacement – a weatherman from KNBC, Pat Sajak. Despite NBC President Fred Silverman being unhappy with the choice, Griffin held his ground and Sajak was in. Sajak’s made his debut as host of Wheel of Fortune on December 28, 1981.
It would be Sajak and Stafford hosting Wheel together….for about eight months. Stafford was unhappy about Woolery leaving and wasn’t eager to work with a new host. She slowly warmed towards Sajak’s different style and humor and momentarily it seemed like they would be the Wheel duo. Then Stafford decided to take her life in another direction. She wanted to leave showbiz and do more humanitarian work. Rather than renewing her contract she resigned from Wheel. Her final show was on October 22, 1982.
VANNA WINS THE WHEEL GIG
There were A LOT of people interested in landing the co-hostess job on Wheel. It was said producers interviewed over five hundred women. Griffin sifted through piles of resumes and headshots and narrowed the field down to three lucky hopefuls. Vicki McCarty, Summer Bartholomew and Vanna White.
McCarty was a former Playboy Playmate from its September 1979 issue, who also had a law degree. Coincidentally, she was friends with Vanna. Bartholomew gained fame from winning the 1975 Miss USA pageant. She had previously modeled gowns on Wheel in 1977 and even filled in for Stafford on several shows at the big puzzle board.
And then there was Vanna.
At the time, Vanna didn’t have an agent or manager. She got a callback to do an audition. One of the speculated reasons is claimed that when Griffin saw her headshot he noticed Vanna had a large head. Griffin had had the theory that if you had a big head you were destined for stardom. I’m not sure how scientifically proven that is, but it got Vanna’s foot in the door.
The three ladies would be vying for the permanent position of being the new letter turner – or rather to be the new ‘letter activator’ on Wheel of Fortune.
The three were invited to be guests on the show, where each would take turns co-hosting with Sajak and revealing the letters on the big board. The producers wanted to see how they moved and looked and if they had chemistry with Sajak.
It came down between Vanna and McCarty. For his part, Sajak voted for McCarty. But Griffin had the final vote and he chose Vanna. The day before Thanksgiving 1982, Vanna got a phone call telling her that she landed the job. On December 10, 1982 25-year-old Vanna became the permanent new co-hostess of Wheel of Fortune.
Griffin would later say about the name ‘Vanna White’, “A great name, a name made for game show television.”
Vanna recalled, “I remember Pat Sajak said to me after I got it, he said ‘I did not think you were going to get it because you were so nervous.’ I couldn’t even talk, I could hardly walk. My mouth was quivering, my knees were shaking. I was just so nervous and I thought ‘Oh, I have blown this!’”
Vanna’s daily role consisted of entering the stage with Sajak, them trading a few remarks, then walking over to her spot in front of the giant puzzle board. From there, Vanna would do some walking back and forth and a whole lot of clapping.
As contestants made their guesses of letters, Vanna would turn (and later touch) the individual tiles to reveal the letters. She would then walk over to the side of the board and clap the contestants on. Vanna is given the answers to the puzzles in advance so she knows where the letters are located, so unlike contestants and viewers at home, she can’t play along trying to solve it.
At the end of the show, after all the puzzles have been solved, the prizes given away and money won, Sajak and Vanna would trade a few closing remarks, maybe say some corny jokes and bid viewers a good night and they would see them next time.
What a great job huh?
What was the first letter Vanna turned on the show – ‘T’!
“WHAT WILL VANNA WEAR?”
In 1983, television syndicators Kings World were looking for a show to sell nationally in the early evenings. Wheel of Fortune looked like a promising choice and Griffin got a call. Soon a nightly edition of Wheel of Fortune was planned. Sajak and Vanna would now be hosting the show twice a day – a morning edition and a new evening one.
While the game would be the same, the evening version of Wheel was given more of a polish – mainly regarding Vanna’s wardrobe. It was thought the evening edition of Wheel needed to be a bit more glamorous than the daytime version.
The thought was that mostly women would watch daytime television. It was a different audience in the evenings. Now men and people of all ages would be home to watch the show. They already had beautiful Vanna, so why not have her wear a much nicer and alluring wardrobe to attract their eyeballs to Wheel.
While Vanna had only just began appearing on daytime television, the dramatic move to evenings would increase the shows audience and help cement Vanna as one of the most popular fashion icons of the era. The new syndicated evening version of Wheel debuted on September 19, 1983 and was an instant hit.
Within three years from Vanna’s start on the show, Wheel of Fortune would become the most successful syndicated game show of all time.
Along with doing all that letter flipping, Vanna would wear those beautiful dresses and gowns for her co-hosting role. It just wouldn’t seem very suitable if she wore sweatpants and a t-shirt while turning those letters. The dresses would be eye-catching and capture viewers attention. Sometimes Vanna’s wardrobe would draw attention away from the puzzle.
After having worn over 7000 dresses and gowns during her time on the show, a logical question is – where do they all come from? It turns out they’re all on loan.
Wheel of Fortune is sent dozens of dresses from designers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that they would be eager to have their work displayed on the show with Vanna making the dresses look as beautiful as possible. The attention the show has would beat just having a model walk down the runway wearing it.
From all these dresses that get submitted, the show’s costume designer Kathi Nishimoto and Vanna pick out their favorites and narrow them down to what she’ll ultimately wear on the show.
Over the years Vanna has been asked many times about her Wheel wardrobe. She’s said, “My favorite gowns are the comfortable ones, the ones that are stretchy. There are some that are extremely tight and off-the-shoulder, so it’s very hard sometimes to reach to the top row and turn the letters.”
Along with looking great, they also have to be mindful of function. Vanna never wears strapless gowns, since she has to reach up all the time to turn over the letters. Nishimoto said, “She moves around so much, and they slip, and on camera, you can’t keep tugging at the top of your dress.” That also eliminates tight or off-the-shoulder styles dresses — and large skirts too. “I don’t want to block the letters,” Vanna explained.
Vanna prefers a more streamlined skirt. “I prefer the cocktail-length dresses so I don’t have to worry about tripping.”
The wardrobe department makes a few alterations to the chosen dresses and Vanna slips them on. Typically, Wheel films six episodes per production day, so Vanna must make an outfit change for each episode. It’s said she has her wardrobe change down to three minutes.
Once her wardrobe is selected, the ‘Dress Operation’ doesn’t end there. The schedule of when and which dresses and gowns Vanna will wear on the show are strategically planned to make the most impact.
The wardrobe department starts the Wheel week with having her wear the most knock out and glamorous outfit on Mondays. The reasoning is it will capture viewers attention at the start of the week, and they’ll be so impressed by it, they’ll keep tuning in everyday afterwards to see what Vanna will wear for the rest of the week.
She comes out wearing the selected outfit and the audience and viewers gasp. The outfit is documented and filed away in the shows records and the designers get an on-air credit.
All those dresses and gowns Vanna has worn on the show might look great on her, but she doesn’t get to take any of them home. Once she’s done taping the show they are returned to the designers.
Through the past forty years fashion has gone through many changes. She has said, “From the big shoulder pads to the skimpy dresses, I’ve worn it all. The designers send their latest clothes every year and I wear them. So it’s really up to them. It’s their style, and I’m modeling their clothes. So the pressure really isn’t on me.”
Vanna has experienced a few ‘wardrobe malfunctions through the years. Vanna told People magazine in 2017, “I’ve had things pop off, I’ve had things rip. I’ve had my zipper break.”
“The funniest thing was on a couple months ago. It was a Christmas show and we had presents on either end of the puzzle board and for some reason my dress caught the bow of the present and I’m walking back and forth turning letters and there’s a gift attached to the bottom of my dress following me. That one went viral and I had no idea! That’s what made it even more funny!”
Vanna has only repeated an on-air outfit once.
But what about the shoes? Vanna has to do a lot of walking, so what’s the most comfortable shoes she chooses to wear?
Unlike the rest of us who would just wear some comfy sneakers, Vanna wears high heels that are always her own. She explained, “Guess makes good ones. They’re high heels but they have a 2-inch platform in the front, so it’s almost like you’re walking on 3-inch heels and not 5-inch heels. I probably have more Guess shoes than any other.”
All the work that went into making Vanna a game show fashion plate payed off. Audiences noticed and millions of viewers started religiously tuning in. The question “What will Vanna wear?” became one of the most popular 1980s catchphrases alongside “Where’s the beef?” and “I pity the fool!”
Vanna-Mania officially began.
“When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off.”
When Wheel moved to syndication it became a television evening fixture to millions of new viewers. There’s a much larger audience of viewers in the evening than in the middle of the day, so it made sense that new people would find the show and tune in. Which they did! The evening edition of Wheel of Fortune was a ratings hit.
Vanna became an overnight sensation. She began to appear on magazine covers, made personal appearances and the media was scrambling to interview her. ‘Vanna’ became a household name and she gained first-name-only recognition.
She was getting 300 fan letters a day. She was getting on average two wedding proposals a week. People magazine included her in its list of the 25 most intriguing people of 1986. “Weird Al” Yankovic released a song titled ‘Stuck In a Closet With Vanna White’. Even President Reagan mentioned her in a speech. She was one of those personalities who became famous for simply being herself.
Do you need more evidence of Vanna’s popularity during the 1980s? How about the surge of babies being named Vanna during Vanna-Mania. It was reported that there had been only a smattering of babies named ‘Vanna’ until the name suddenly became trendy thanks to her rise in stardom. In 1986, over a hundred babies across the country got named ‘Vanna’.
Vanna would later tell EMMY TV Legends, “I’ll never forget the day I felt I made it, I was standing in line at the grocery store and I was on the cover of Newsweek. I thought ‘Wow, I’ve made it’.”
It’s likely the added exposure of Wheel being on twice a day, and especially airing in the evenings, helped make Vanna so famous across the country. Would she have skyrocketed to fame had Wheel stayed solely a daytime game show squeezed in between soap operas? Maybe not.
Vanna-Mania was a strange phenomenon. It was almost like a more innocent version of the Kardashian craze that would happen decades later.
Everyone was intrigued by Vanna and she really didn’t seem all that interesting. There was nothing particularly compelling or scandalous about her (although an ‘almost scandal’ was looming ahead for her). She was a just a pretty woman who was making a living smiling, clapping and turning letters on a game show. Despite her seemingly being such an inconsequential part of television, the whole country went crazy over her.
Years later when asked about her popularity on EMMY TV Legends, Vanna said, “People make fun of my job. And I’ll be the first to make fun of it too! I mean, come on, I can’t believe I touch a letter and I’m famous. I don’t get it.
With the popularity of the show and Vanna now being a genuine famous television personality, there of course came offers outside of turning letters on the Wheel of Fortune stage. By 1987, promotional appearances alone netted her approximately a million dollars a year.
One Vanna fan was Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner. He offered her the opportunity to pose for the magazine, but at the time, Vanna’s career was skyrocketing and she didn’t really need that ‘extra exposure’ to help her out. She declined.
During the 1980s, pinup posters were extremely popular. Actresses, models, singers, all of them had their own poster. It was a lucrative marketing piece of merchandise at the time. If you want a refresher on them, just check out my extensive look at The History of Pinup Girl Posters.
With her new manager Ray Manzella, Vanna wanted to sell her own poster. The pin-up image she decided on would be inspired by the old classic Hollywood image of ‘Jane Russell in a hayloft’.
In March 1986 Vanna’s pinup poster was released. Over 100,000 copies were sold in the first month.
With all the frenzy and Vanna-Mania swirling around her, Vanna maintained her relationship with then fiancé John Gibson, whose love of flying had pushed aside his own showbiz career.
Tragedy would strike on May 17, 1986, when Gibson died in a plane crash. Vanna was said to have been devastated by his death. She would take some personal time off from Wheel of Fortune to arrange his affairs.
She told People magazine in 2019, “It was May 17, 1986. The second I heard about it, I fell to my knees. It was just devastating. I heard from so many people who had shared the same experience of losing someone instantly in an accident, and that really helped me. I didn’t feel like I was alone. Because when something like that happens, you immediately think you’re the only one.”
THE PLAYBOY SCANDAL
Coming soon after Gibson’s death, Vanna also suffered public embarrassment and a potential career-ending scandal thanks to Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine. Despite her declining Hefner’s offer to pose nude, suggestive older photos of her surfaced and would be shown in the pages of the May 1987 issue of Playboy.
In 1982, when she was still a struggling model/actress, Vanna posed for a series of lingerie ads. Subsequently, Vanna never gave permission for the ’82 semi-nude photos to be published, but photographer David Gurian who took them, sold them to Playboy for $100,000.
The whole incident echoed how Marilyn Monroe ended up as the first Playboy magazine cover girl when nude photos taken of earlier in her career adorned that 1962 premiere issue. She had no control over their publication.
About her posing for the racy photos, Vanna explained, “Here’s the thing. When I first moved to Hollywood, I was too embarrassed to ask my dad for rent money. I was young and I wanted to do it on my own. So, I did these lingerie shots and from the moment I said I would do them, I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m not going to ask my dad for money, so I’m just going to do it!’
“Once I got Wheel of Fortune and some fame, Hugh Hefner then bought those pictures. He’s the one who put me on the cover of the magazine.”
The risqué photos could damage Vanna’s image and jeopardized her job on Wheel if the public turned on her. While Barker’s Beauties’ Dian Parkinson and Janice Pennington had willingly posed for the magazine, it was not something Vanna wanted to be associated with. Vanna tried to stop the images from going to print by suing the magazine for $5.2 million. In addition, she sued Hefner in federal court.
She told the AP in 1987 that she wanted to stop the photos before they could “tarnish her image as a modest, wholesome, attractive and innocent all-American girl.”
“Through her efforts and the efforts of her representatives, all of whom carefully control the publicity Ms. White receives and the image she projects, Ms. White has successfully achieved an image (consistent with her true character and personality) of a modest, wholesome, attractively innocent all-American girl,” the suit said.
There’s some ‘He Said/She Said’ regarding the Playboy incident. Bruce Binkow, former director of communications for Playboy, claimed that Vanna was fully aware of the cover and photos and even asked Playboy to postpone the release of the magazine to coincide with the release of her upcoming book.
Vanna’s version of events paints a much different picture. She says she had a meeting with Hefner, who she considered a friend. She had met Hefner through her boyfriend John Gibson and spent some time at the Playboy mansion, where she said no hanky panky ever took place. Vanna discussed the photos with Hefner and how she did not want them to ever be published and he promised her he would not run the photos in the magazine.
Whatever the true story is, Vanna would later drop the lawsuit, saying in a statement, “Playboy’s promotion efforts . . . have led the public to believe the photographs are more revealing and provocative than they actually are. Non-publication of the photographs under these circumstances may very well be more damaging to me and my career than the injury which I will undoubtedly suffer from publication.”
Vanna had been featured in half-baked tabloid headlines before, but she wouldn’t bother to comment on them or give them any credence. This Playboy incident was different and had the potential to ruin her career.
Rather than relying on the court, she pleaded her case to the public. After the Playboy issue hit magazine stands, Vanna appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. She apologized for posing for the photos and asked the public to forgive her.
The Wheel of Fortune producers were bracing for a backlash. After all, Wheel of Fortune was meant to be a family friendly program. However, the sexy photos didn’t do anything to dampen the enthusiasm for her. Vanna was forgiven and her job at Wheel was secure.
Years later she reflected back on it all and said how she never wanted those photos to have appeared in Playboy. “I did not want them on there, but it happened. I was very thankful that I had such support behind me. I remember going on Johnny Carson and saying, ‘I’m so sorry, this is what happened.’ And this is a lesson that applies today: Never do anything that you don’t want to do. Listen to your instincts and follow it. I said, ‘I made a mistake, I’m sorry and I just hope I don’t lose my job over it.’ Fortunately, I didn’t. I could have, you know? It was a great lesson to learn, but what can I say? I did something I shouldn’t have done.”
While she might have lost the fight with Hefner to protect her image from appearing in Playboy, she went to great lengths to protect it from others.
In 1992, Samsung ran a print ad that featured a robotic letter-turner that was clearly inspired by Vanna and her duties on Wheel.
Vanna sued Samsung claiming intellectual property infringement. At the time it was reported her annual income was estimated to be around $4 million, and she sought $6.9 million in damages. Ultimately she won the case and was awarded $403,000 in damages for them using that robotic likeness of her.
VANNA MERCH & PROJECTS
In 1987, Vanna’s autobiography ‘Vanna Speaks’, hit book shelves across the country. Vanna naturally went on a publicity tour and the book hit number fifteen on the New York Times Best Seller List.
The book detailed such hard-hitting revelations for her fans like – what is Vanna’s worst phobia? That she’ll run out of cat food. There were details about the five hair styles that she must wear on each and every show, her personal record time changing from one gown to the other during commercial breaks (60 seconds), her most humiliating teen-age experience (she got drunk on Boone’s Farm apple wine and lost her boyfriend), her secret Old World recipe for ‘Lasagna a la Vanna’ and a pattern – with instructions – to sew Vanna’s preferred afghans.
I suppose Vanna’s fans loved these deep insights.
Here’s an episode of Donahue that was all about Vanna during the height of Vanna-Mania. She discusses the Playboy photos, her feelings about it, her new book, her work on Wheel of Fortune and how she was handling the insane attention that was focused on her. It’s a very interesting peek at how big Vanna-Mania was at that time. Notice how excited audience members were for the opportunity to ask her a question!
Wheel of Fortune continued to be the number one syndicated show on television and was incredibly profitable. While it only cost around seven million dollars a year to produce, it generated over $125 million a year in revenue.
Vanna’s Wheel paycheck was around $150,000 a year. A very small amount compared to what the show was earning. But one can’t argue how nice a job it is! White and Sajak would tape six individual shows a day and they were only expected to be on set four days a month. They would essentially tape a month worth of shows in about a week. Who wouldn’t want a schedule like that!
That schedule left a lot of free time for Vanna to pursue lucrative endorsement deals that boosted her income.
She became the spokeswoman for Spring Air mattresses. There was Vanna perfume. She released Get Slim Stay Slim exercise VHS tapes. She partnered with the Home Shopping Network to sell a Vanna doll. Over 500,000 were sold.
There was a huge demand for Vanna to make personal appearances where she would be paid $20,000 for each one. In one survey conducted it asked who was the most important role model for young women. Nearly 90% answered Vanna as their response. She was quickly becoming one of the most popular women of the decade.
Vanna’s manager Ray Manzella, said he fielded dozens of offers and proposals for his client. There was an offer for a Saturday morning animation series that would star Vanna as the heroine. Hanna-Barbera and Warner Bros. Cartoons both were eager to do it. That animated series would have also included merchandising along the lines of Barbie. There would be a Vanna doll, a Vanna van, a Vanna dream house. I wonder if Sajak would’ve filled in as the ‘Ken’ role….?
Anything Vanna even causally mentioned perked the ears up of companies wanting to do a deal with her. During one interview on Good Morning America Vanna said she’d like to have a Vanna cookie line. That offhand remark was enough for both General Mills and Keebler Cookies to contact her and submit written offers for her own line of Vanna Cookies. Baskin-Robbins proposed doing a Vanna Cookie line AND a frozen yogurt.
None of those deals happened. It makes you wonder what a Vanna cartoon would’ve looked like or what kind of flavor Vanna ice cream would’ve been.
Not everyone was drawn into Vanna-Mania. Feminists challenged the role of the silent and smiling female co-host role on game shows. Arguing they were there to just look good in glitzy dresses next to the more respectable male hosts.
A 1,000-word anti-Vanna commentary was written titled ‘How Much Vanna Can We Stanna?”. The article opened with the question, “What if Barbie came to life, changed her name to Vanna White and found a job turning letters on the most successful game show in television history?”
For Vanna, she wasn’t ashamed of her job. She said, “Wheel of Fortune has made me, and that’s the reason why I’m sitting here today. It’s put me in everybody’s household, and I’m a household name now. I’ll never say, ‘Hey, I’m better than that’…If I wasn’t doing that job, somebody else would be.”
THE GODDESS OF LOVE
A lot of photos taken, words written and TV time focused on Vanna fueled Vanna-Mania. At some point it had to slow down. The craze started to become ridiculous.
Even Vanna said, “Quite frankly, I got sick of seeing myself, so I know that America was tired of it. So I thought, ‘It’s time to take a break from the press and let people wonder what’s happening with me.’ Now it’s time to go in and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing something new. I hope you like it’.”
That new thing that Vanna was about to do was starring in a TV movie.
Vanna still had the acting bug and thought now she had the opportunity to do it thanks to all the attention she was getting. Manzella was searching for a vehicle for the then 31-year-old Vanna. He had read forty submitted scripts that were sent to her, and then he came across The Goddess of Love. He liked it and arranged for her to take a screen test for the role.
Apparently, the screen test did not go well.
During promotion of the film, Vanna said once she decided to do the film she studied with top acting coach Roy London. There was a delay in production due to a writers strike and Vanna used that time to prepare for her first lead acting performance.
She said, “As soon as I got the script, I realized it was time to study. I really worked my you-know-what off. Roy got me involved with the part. Venus is not a real person obviously, but we took the fictional character and my personality and combined the two. Our personalities overlapped.”
Vanna was excited about this new acting opportunity that would allow her to do something different, saying, “I’ve been turning letters on Wheel of Fortune for six years, and most of America doesn’t even know I can talk.”
Vanna had some trouble with some of the archaic language her character of Venus uses. “My lines don’t make sense a lot of the time. You try saying ‘Where dost thou slumber?’ and make it sound natural. That’s where my acting lessons really came in handy.”
There was also the process of making a life-size Venus/Vanna statue for the film, which Vanna had to be encased in plaster from head to toe to make. She said, “My whole body was under plaster except for my nostrils. I had to stay like that for 45 minutes. I got claustrophobic, but I made it.”
The network felt The Goddess of Love was a ‘low-risk’ venture. Executive producer Phil Margo said, “You know that with her fans and the curiosity about this that we’ll get good numbers, good Nielsens, and this is a numbers business”.
Vanna was optimistic about the film and said if it was successful, she would consider having it become a weekly television series – as long as it didn’t interfere with her work on Wheel of Fortune.
The Goddess of Love premiered on NBC on November 20, 1988. It wasn’t given to early for critics to review. That was an immediate bad omen.
Vanna played the mythological Venus who has had a series of unsuccessful love affairs on Mt. Olympus. Her father Zeus (played by John Rhys-Davies) is upset with her by this behavior and turns her into a statue until the day she discovers what love is.
Fast forward 3,000 years to present day and this Venus/Vanna statue is sitting on Earth and soon to be married David Naughton playfully slips a ring on the statues finger. Magically it comes to life in the form of Vanna.
There’s some ‘fish out of water’ misadventures as Vanna tries to convince Naughton they are meant to be together and asks him to leave this Earth and spend eternity on Mt. Olympus with her. Naughton has to try to keep secret this new goddess in his life from his fiancé Amanda Bearse. There’s also a subplot involving two criminals, the police investigating this stolen Venus statue and comedy hijinks from David Leisure and Little Richard of all people. Vanna also switches back and forth from statue form to flesh and blood quite a number of times. The statue of her gets featured a lot in the movie.
In human form, Vanna gets to shoot poorly done special effect lightning bolts from her hands, goes on a shopping spree on Rodeo Drive where she tries on lots of dresses and discovers how delicious pizza is.
It’s television fluff and not even halfway entertaining fluff. The Goddess of Love is an extremely poor film. If this was the film vehicle they thought would be perfect for Vanna to star in, then I can’t imagine what kind of scripts Vanna and Manzella turned down. Manzella was also co-producer on the movie.
I think The The Goddess of Love was meant to be something along the lines of Splash or Mannequin, where this mysterious beautiful woman is out of her element, comically making her way through human society and there’s some romance in it.
The tantalizing casting of Vanna starring in it didn’t draw viewers in. The ratings were dismal and critics were delighted to tear it to ribbons. There was no chance it was going to be a weekly television series.
It has since become an 80s oddity. I don’t think there are many Goddess of Love fans out there. If you’re curious about it I’m sure you can find it buried on some streaming site somewhere. I have to warn you, it’s really quite bad and it deserves the poor reputation it has gotten. Even hardcore Vanna fans will probably find it hard to sit through. It was the one and only time Vanna would be the lead in a movie.
I would be curious to find out where that Venus/Vanna statue is today. Maybe some prop collector who’s a hardcore Vanna fan bought it and still has it. Perhaps it’s sitting in a garage somewhere. It would be a shame if they threw it away after all the time Vanna spent on being molded for it.
While The Goddess of Love didn’t energize an acting career for her, Vanna still got other television work aside from Wheel. She would make guest appearances on television shows like The A-Team, L.A. Law, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, Full House, Married… with Children and The King of Queens. She even scored a spot in the wrestling world, being guest timekeeper for WrestleMania IV in 1988.
It seemed liked fans just wanted her to be herself. They just liked watching Vanna be Vanna!
SAJAK’S SHORT-LIVED TALK SHOW & NEW HOSTS
As the 1980s was coming to a close, Vanna-Mania slowly began to dissipate. She would continue to be a popular television personality, but the absurd attention she got during Vanna-Mania subsided.
While the game show landscape remained stable, late night television became a battleground. ‘The Late Night Wars’ ignited. While Johnny Carson had been the ‘King of Late Night’ for nearly thirty years, networks and syndicators were fighting to secure their own successful late night talk show that would attract a younger audience.
CBS felt it was time they could compete with their own late night talk show and believed Sajak was the man to do it. He signed up for it and on January 9, 1989 The Pat Sajak Show would debuted on CBS. Vanna was not asked to be his sidekick on the show.
With so much time that would be needed to devote to his talk show, Sajak could now only squeeze in hosting the evening edition of Wheel. While Vanna was ready to continue to do both the daytime and evening editions of the show, producers needed a host to fill in Sajak’s shoes for daytime.
At the time there was speculation that perhaps Vanna would move into the main hosting role replacing Sajak. Griffin wasn’t keen on that idea. When asked about the possibility of Vanna hosting he said he felt she was not right for the role. Not holding back he made his opinion clear that he didn’t think a game show would work with a female host. “I only once saw a woman host, and it didn’t work out. Someone at one of the networks said to me once, ‘Women won’t consider a woman for host’.”
Those remarks probably would probably catch Griffin some backlash today.
At the time, Vanna also said she wasn’t interested in hosting the show. Saying, “It’s like men wearing skirts in this country. America is not used to that.”
Former football player Rolf Benirschke ended up being selected as the new host of the daytime edition of Wheel of Fortune. He was something of a very unexpected choice.
The evening edition of Wheel with Sajak kept bringing in the ratings, but the Sajak-less daytime version was struggling. In May 1989, only five months after Benirschke began, NBC execs cancelled the daytime edition of Wheel.
CBS picked up the rights to air the daytime Wheel and had plans of redesigning the show – namely finding a new host. Rolf was not asked back. He was replaced by Bob Goen.
While the Wheel kept spinning, Sajak’s talk show ratings began dropping. He was getting beaten regularly by Carson and the hipper Arsenio Hall Show. In April 1990, after one and half seasons, The Pat Sajak Show was cancelled. Luckily, he still had his hosting duties of the evening Wheel of Fortune to keep him on TV.
Along with the fame Wheel of Fortune gave Vanna, unfortunately one scary moment occurred while filming an episode.
In April 1990 a former mental patient in the audience of Wheel of Fortune disrupted a taping of the show. Wearing fatigues and dog tags, he jumped out from the audience yelling that Vanna’s boyfriend was a bad man and was associated with the Mafia and that he would protect her from him. Security hauled him out. It was learned that earlier the man had called Griffin’s office proclaiming his love for Vanna and his intentions were to marry her. Vanna went to court over the incident and a judge ordered the stalker to not to come within 150 yards from her for the next three years.
On New Years Eve 1990, Vanna married George Santo Pietro in Aspen Colorado. Always thinking of her image, the producers of Wheel were somewhat concerned her marriage might dull her popularity with men. There was no reason to be worried. Vanna’s marriage didn’t hurt the ratings of the evening edition and everyone still loved her.
The daytime version of Wheel was a different story. It seemed fans were reluctant to accept the show without Sajak. It was like Vanna and Pat were a package deal and no one else could replace the other. Goen’s daytime version of Wheel never really picked up in the ratings, so CBS pulled the plug on it for good.
Wheel of Fortune was no longer going to be on in the daytime, it would now only be seen in the evenings.
Oddly enough, Goen would return to hosting Wheel of Fortune – kind of. It was announced in 2023 that he would be hosting the Wheel of Fortune Live 2023 tour.
In September 1992 on an episodes of the show, a contestant correctly guessed that the solution to the puzzle was a revelation about White. It spelled out V-A-N-N-A’S P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T to announce the pending arrival of Vanna’s first child with husband Santo Peitro.
Sadly, in the summer of 1992 she suffered a miscarriage. In 1993, Vanna got pregnant again. Pregnancy wasn’t going to keep Vanna from turning those letters. The slinky evening gowns had to stay in the closet for awhile and for the next several months Vanna’s wardrobe was maternity wear. In June 1994 Vanna gave birth to a son. A daughter would arrive in July 1997.
THE EVOLUTION OF THE PUZZLE BOARD
While Vanna and Pat might’ve been the hosts of Wheel of Fortune, the real star of the program was the puzzle board. That’s where all the excitement and attention was aimed at – I mean contestants had to solve it in order to win that prize money!
In 1997 a dramatic change occurred on the show. The famous big board where Vanna would turn letters got updated and went hi-tech. The giant individual letters that Vanna would turn became individual touch screens. Vanna no longer had to physically turn the letters, but now simply would touch the board to reveal the letters. She was now definitely “activating” the letters.
On the final night the old puzzle board was used, Sajak ad-libbed a joke to Vanna that fell flat. “This is the last night of this puzzle board. You will no longer be turning letters. The new board…it’s heat activated if you will. And if anyone can heat up a board, you can.”
Vanna graciously forced out an awkward laugh at that.
That old dusty original flipping puzzle board that Vanna started with holds an awful lot of nostalgic affection for older viewers and has become part of television history. Vanna has said that a piece of it is now sitting in the Smithsonian.
The board would get another upgrade in 2022. The individual letter screens were now turned into one huge LED screen.
Vanna said, “I started by turning the letters, and then we switched to touching them – they were TV monitors and I would touch the side and they would light up. And this year we switched to a laser! I don’t even have to touch it.”
The big board can switch on command and show glitzy graphics or the letters to the next puzzle in an instant. None of it is controlled by Vanna. She makes a gesture toward the screen and the letters change from the control room.
This has caused some uproar by hardcore Wheel fans. There have been some criticism about the brightness and the font change, but the main complaint to this new puzzle board is – if Vanna no longer has to touch the letters to make them show up and doesn’t control any part of the board, THEN WHAT IS HER FUNCTION ANYMORE?
Well, if you need to ask, her function IS TO BE VANNA!
Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White and Pat Sajak all kept spinning along and fans kept tuning in. Wheel remained the most-watched program in syndication with more than 26 million weekly viewers. The show was licensed and produced in more than 45 international territories.
During its run, Wheel of Fortune has naturally had home versions of the game for fans to play. But they also had some fun with its format and did a few special episodes over the years.
For April Fool’s Day in 1997, game show fans were in for a quirky crossover. Jeopardy host Alex Trebek and Sajak swapped hosting jobs. Viewers tuned in to Wheel to see Trebek as host and Vanna and Pat as contestants. Over on Jeopardy, Sajak filled in as host. All the winnings from both shows went to charity.
In 1999, Wheel went on the road to tape special episodes. Vanna said, “We’ve been to Ireland, Switzerland, England, Scotland and everywhere in the United States. In Alaska they put me on a glacier and shot me from above in a helicopter. And here I am, standing as far as I can see, just white, white, white, on this glacier. It was awesome.”
Between taping shows in New York City, Vanna hit the Broadway stage and performed one song as Sally Bowles in the opening number of Cabaret. The one-time performance was presented before a special invited audience and portions of it were aired on Wheel.
Vanna was honored with a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 20, 2006. From its website it described Vanna’s many accomplishments in television and added, “Surveys have shown that her presence has contributed greatly to Wheel of Fortune’s phenomenal ratings. And, although she has been called its silent star, Vanna does indeed talk – and quite well. A much sought-after guest for television’s talk show couches, Vanna’s autobiography, Vanna Speaks, was a nationwide bestseller when published in 1987. She also has been featured on numerous magazine covers.”
“Through it all, one aspect of Vanna’s life remains unchanged: her down-to-earth appreciation of the work done by her off-camera colleagues that keeps the series consistently on top of the ratings charts.”
Guests attending her star unveiling included Sajak, Griffin, Trebek and Vanna’s father. Upon receiving her star Vanna spoke to the crowd, “I remember my parents telling me, at the age of 10, ‘You can do anything you want.’ Dad, we did it!”
Griffin told the crowd, “I picked her because she knew the whole alphabet. She is America’s sweetheart.”
In an interview with Larry King he asked her what was her proudest achievement was. She answered, getting her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2011, the show held a ‘Vanna For A Day’ contest, where viewers submitted video auditions to take her place for the day. Really, who wouldn’t want Vanna’s job!
One of Vanna’s hobbies is a crotchet. She sometimes manages to do some knitting behind the puzzle board during breaks on the show. After she talked about it on a Tonight Show appearance, she was approached by the Lion Brand Yarn Company to become a spokesperson for the product in 1994.
In 2008, the company began issuing her own line of yarn, Vanna’s Choice. She models patterns and its her own designs in crochet kits. Vanna donates a lot of the proceeds to charity. She’s also contributed to a number of knitting design books.
On the May 24th 2013 episode of Wheel, Vanna received quite an unusual honor. After being on 32 seasons of Wheel, The Guinness Book of World Records recognized her as the title holder for ‘most frequent clapper’. They estimated she’s clapped more than 3.5 million times and is estimated to clap 606 times per show.
Vanna said upon receiving the award, “I never thought of it that way. But yeah, wow! I’m breaking records everyday! It’s hard to believe I don’t have callouses after all these years.”
It’s estimated Vanna has walked more than 2,000 miles from one end of the puzzle board to the other during her time on Wheel.
Sajak received his own World Breaking acknowledgement on March 22, 2019. After hosting Wheel of Fortune for over 35 years and 198 days, The Guinness Book of World Records announced he became the title-holder for ‘The Longest Career as a Game Show Host of the Same Show’!
In November 2019 Vanna stepped into Sajak’s shoes as host. For three weeks she played official hostess to contestants while Sajak recovered from surgery. Guest letter activators filled in Vanna’s spot at the puzzle board.
It wasn’t a spot on the show she felt very comfortable in. “I was very nervous because it happened suddenly, so I didn’t have a chance to rehearse. And the nerves were there throughout all fifteen shows because I didn’t want to mess up. It was like playing second base on a ball team and all of a sudden you’ve moved to third base. I wanted to be there for Pat in every way I could.”
The show would routinely do special ‘Celebrity Wheel of Fortune’ episodes through the years. In a 2022 episode, Vanna took a break from her letter duties and competed as a contestant against Jeopardy hosts Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings. Sajak’s daughter Maggie took Vanna’s place as the shows letter activator.
Also in 2022, along with that big LED puzzle board the show got, Vanna celebrated her own milestone. On December 13, 2022 Vanna celebrated her 40th anniversary on the show. She was given a ‘Wheel-themed cake and several Vanna dolls. The puzzle board spelt out – HAPPY 40TH VANNAVERSARY!
She shared a photo on her Instagram with the caption, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but 40 years ago today I taped my first episode of Wheel of Fortune. It’s been a wonderful 40 years, too! I’m so grateful to those of you who watch and everyone behind the scenes who make us look good. We wouldn’t still be here without all of you! (And the cake was delicious!)”
One might suspect Vanna’s job could get a bit boring after doing it for so long. However, in 2022 Vanna explained the cushy gig never gets tedious. She said, “I have a different dress on, we have different puzzles. So I treat every show like it is brand new and it’s so much fun.”
While Vanna might not have gotten equal pay to Sajak, her net worth is estimated to be around $85 million. All those speaking engagements and endorsements she does earns her A LOT of added revenue. Vanna also earns more money per year than her Wheel salary, by licensing her name and image for Wheel of Fortune casino slot machines.
SAJAK ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT – BUT WHAT ABOUT VANNA?!?!
It was inevitable and fans knew it would happen one day, and in June 2023 it happened – one of the hosts was going to depart from Wheel of Fortune. After finishing his hosting duties for the 41st year, Sajak announced he planned to retire from the show in 2024.
Sajak tweeted – “Well, the time has come. I’ve decided that our 41st season, which begins in September, will be my last. It’s been a wonderful ride, and I’ll have more to say in the coming months. Many thanks to you all. (if nothing else, it’ll keep the clickbait sites busy!)”
If you had any doubt how beloved Wheel of Fortune, Sajak and Vanna were to viewers, and how embedded they became in the television landscape, the way the news of Sajak’s retirement ran rampant across social media showed just how much affection fans have for the show.
Along with saying farewell to Sajak, the announcement opened up concern of ‘What about Vanna?’, ‘What will she do?’, ‘Will she leave the show too?’.
Well, first there’s Sajak’s replacement. The circumstances of a longtime, well loved, popular game show host stepping down and someone coming in to replace him was big news.
In 2007, Bob Barker had retired from The Price Is Right after hosting it for 35 years. He was the host Sajak passed in terms of longevity to become the record holder of longest serving host of a game show. After Barker left, Drew Carey became the new host of the show. Price Is Right fans can decide how that passing of the torch has worked out and if the newer version of Price has maintained the quality of the show.
Let me preface this by saying, there’s a lot of speculation of behind the scenes gossip, so it’s not certain how accurate these salary numbers truly are, but these were the most reported ones I’ve found.
Some thought perhaps Vanna would be moved into being the main host of the show. Whenever there’s an opening for the main host on Wheel, Vanna is always the first candidate suggested by fans. There were other reports saying that Vanna feared she was going to be fired. Neither of these happened.
It didn’t take very long for Wheel to find its new host waiting in the wings. A few weeks following Sajak’s retirement announcement, Sony Pictures announced Ryan Seacrest would be the next host of Wheel of Fortune.
Seacrest, who has become the 21st century version of Dick Clark (or at least who they’re forcing us to see him that way), wasn’t a surprising choice to be selected as the host. He is a constant presence on television that you just can’t get away from. From American Idol to the Emmys to Live with Kelly and Ryan to New Years Eve, you can’t escape him, even if you want to.
So, will Wheel fans accept him into the family? It is worth remembering that Wheel had tried other hosts in the past to work with Vanna and the results haven’t been very successful. It seems only two hosts fit into the show and made it work – Sajak and Woolery. Will Seacrest be the third?
What about America’s favorite letter turner? What would become of her now that Sajak was departing?
Rumors began to swirl that Vanna threatened to quit Wheel if her $3 million salary wasn’t raised substantially to be at least much closer to Sajak’s $15 million a year pay. It was said Vanna hadn’t received a pay increase for nearly twenty years. Negotiations started to keep Vanna where she was.
By the way, it’s rumored Seacrest’s paycheck for hosting Wheel will get him $28 million every season. Do you think he’s worth that?
In July, Sony Pictures Television, which produces Wheel, said it reached an agreement with Vanna that she would at least continue to work on Celebrity Wheel of Fortune, reportedly for $100,000 a show. This was less than Sajak’s estimated $400,000 salary, but it signaled maybe there was a chance Vanna would stick around.
In the past Vanna has expressed she would never want to leave Wheel. She’s said, “The day I can’t fit into dresses and can’t walk and can’t see is the day I’ll stop. But that’s not approaching yet.” But now with Sajak leaving, would she want to stay behind on the show without him? No one was sure what she might do.
Eventually Vanna signed a contract extension that would keep her ‘activating’ those letters through the 2025-26 season. This would give her two season of working with new host Seacrest. Vanna remaining with the show will provide some continuity from its early roots to the new ‘Seacrest Era’ of Wheel of Fortune. The risk of both Sajak and Vanna leaving could have been catastrophic for the show. There would be no ties for longtime viewers to hold onto. Keeping Vanna where she is was an important move.
Seacrest was happy that Vanna would be joining him saying, “This is such great news. Vanna has been such a staple on that show and in our living rooms for so many years. I have been very excited to work with her, but now that it’s official I can say, ‘Congratulations Vanna! I can’t wait.'”
The countdown has begun before Sajak retires. Longtime fans of Wheel of Fortune will have one final year with Pat and Vanna together hosting their favorite gameshow. Sajak’s final Wheel episode he will host is scheduled for June 7, 2024.
In the fall of 2024 it will be Wheel of Fortune with Ryan Seacrest and Vanna White. Fans will surely tune in to see how the Sajak-less Wheel is. Even casual viewers will probably be curious and watch early on just to see this historic change take place for the game show. Will Vanna and Seacrest have chemistry and will viewers keep coming back to watch them to make the next chapter of Wheel of Fortune a success? We shall see.
It’s amazing when you think how big a television star Vanna has become from her time simply ‘activating’ letters on Wheel of Fortune. She’s spent most of her career working at that puzzle board. She’s survived scandals, has gotten married, had children, gone through a divorce and became an entrepreneur. Her longevity on the show, no matter how silly and frivolous her job might be, made her an indelible presence on television.
Today, shows on television and streaming can come and go within a matter of months. Arriving and disappearing with barely a whisper, hardly making an impact. Vanna revealing puzzle letters for over forty years on Wheel is pretty staggering.
Wheel of Fortune. Pat Sajak. Vanna White. They’ve become a reliable television package. A large percentage of viewers have never known a time when they were not on television. There are not many shows that have managed a stranglehold over viewers and have become part of their daily lives like Wheel and its hosts have become.
Consider, if a television game show debuted today, it would have to continually be on the air until 2063 just to equal Vanna & Pat’s run on Wheel of Fortune!
Luckily, Vanna fans are assured she’ll be back on the job for at least a little while longer after Sajak leaves. When she does decide to step down from that big puzzle board, it surely will be a high demand job that millions are going to kill to get, just as she had done in 1982. It will the 21st century game show version of casting Scarlet O’Hara!
When Vanna does decide to bid farewell to Wheel of Fortune and to viewers it will be huge news. We don’t know when that will happen or who will pick up her mantle to be the new Wheel of Fortune letter activator, but it’s unlikely they’ll be as successful at it as Vanna has been. I doubt they’ll cause any kind of ‘Mania’ like she managed to do.