6,500 dresses later: 'Wheel of Fortune' host Vanna White on 35 years with Pat Sajak, why she loves her job
WATCH 35 Years later: 'Wheel of Fortune' host Vanna White on Pat Sajak, loving her job
With the letter “T,” Vanna White made her first appearance on the game show, “Wheel of Fortune” on Dec. 13, 1982.
Now 35 years and 6,500 gowns later, White is still helping to solve the puzzle and loving it.
“I get all dressed up like a Barbie doll. I go out. I give someone else’s money away, make them happy, and we all go home,” White, 60, told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “In show business, no, there’s nothing else I want to do. Is that bad?”
“Wheel of Fortune” is now celebrating its 35th season. White and host Pat Sajak shoot six shows a day, just four days a month.
“Somewhere along the line, we became more than a popular show. We became part of the popular culture,” Sajak told “Nightline.”
And White is very much a part of that influence on pop culture. Since first appearing on “Wheel of Fortune,” White, a once aspiring model from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has carried the Olympic torch and appeared on magazine covers.
She’s in the Guinness Book of Records for most frequent clapper: “They say I have clapped more than 3.9 million times,” said White.” And Merriam-Webster is even considering adding “Vanna White” as a verb to its dictionary. “To Vanna White means to present,” White added, gesturing her signature move.
White was also immortalized in rapper Nelly’s song, “Ride Wit Me,” with the verse, “I be on the next flight, paying cash, first class, sitting next to Vanna White.”
“I was at a party. He was there. I went up to him. I said, ‘Did I sit next to you on a plane?’ He said, ‘No, it just rhymed,’” White recalled.
The fame also led to her feature in Playboy, which published lingerie photos shot when she was an aspiring actress, well before she first appeared on “Wheel of Fortune.”
"I had done some pictures, some lingerie shots to pay the rent because I was too embarrassed to ask my dad for rent money. When I became famous, Hugh Hefner decided to put me on the cover. He was a friend of mine,” White recalled. “I said, ‘Hef, if you put these pictures on the cover, it could ruin my career. And he still put them on there … I didn’t go to the mansion anymore after that.”
Both White and Sajak say they still can’t believe they’ve been on TV for 35 years.
“You know, I have no clue [how] and I’ve given up trying to figure out why. We’re playing hangman on TV is what we’re doing,” said Sajak.
White has never worn a dress more than once, and she says she tries on at least 50 dresses in a day before picking her outfits for the show. She has 10 minutes in between show tapings to change into the gowns that she has to return after wearing.
“I like wearing the short ones best,” White admitted of her dress preferences. “Just because I don’t trip.”
White is signed up for “Wheel of Fortune” for at least three more years. And her job earns her a reported $4 million a year.
“I’m a businesswoman. You know, I have other investments too, real estate,” said White. “A long time ago, I would buy a house and flip it. But now everybody does that so I don’t do that anymore because there’s no houses out there to buy.”
For someone who’s been on TV for so long, White admits she’s a private person.
“I’m shy. I’m not outgoing. I’m a homebody,” White said. “I am on TV, but you know, it’s interesting. How much do I talk on TV?”
And when she’s not on TV, White loves to crochet and work out in her home gym. She’s also known among her friends for her billiards skills.
White, who got divorced in 2002, has two children with her ex-husband, and she now has a boyfriend named John, whom she’s been with for six years.
“We get along terrific. He's like a male version of me. We get each other. He's kind. He's a happy man. He's successful and he's attractive. I met him through my best friend,” White said of her boyfriend.
Back home in South Carolina, White’s 92-year-old father, whom she calls every day, still watches “Wheel of Fortune” every day to see her and Sajak.
White says she and Sajak have only had one fight ever. The disagreement was over putting ketchup on her hot dog.
“I put ketchup on my hot dog. He does not like that,” White said laughing. “It wasn’t too long ago, actually. He thought it was absolutely disgusting.”
“She has no prison time stories to talk about. I've walked around the entire person and there's not a bad side there,” Sajak said. “I’ve checked. I've looked. I've inspected. I've had outside experts come in. She is who she is.”
“Wheel of Fortune” executive producer Harry Friedman says he’s never thought about replacing White.
“When I joined the show, Vanna was already 35. Oh my God. She must be past her prime at 35,” Friedman joked to “Nightline.”
“If you say to Vanna, ‘What do you do for a living?’ She won’t say, ‘Well, I’m a facilitator, and I hope to one day direct it.’ She goes, ‘You know, I touch a letter and they light up,’” Sajak said.
Though it may not appear to be the most feminist job in the world, White says she feels that she holds her own on the show.
“I don’t think people look at it that way anymore. They think of me and Pat as a team, as a couple that put on a good show,” White said. “I’ll be the first to make fun of what I do, absolutely. Because it’s a crazy job, but I love my job, and it’s great. And I think it brings a lot of happiness to people.”