Vanna White is a game show co-host on Wheel of Fortune and Celebrity Wheel of Fortune. She was a professional model before joining Wheel with Pat Sajak in 1982.
White is in charge of revealing the letters on the show’s enormous puzzle board and modeling a constantly shifting line of designs. Vanna’s Choice is a yarn line created by the passionate crocheter.
Vanna Marie Rosich was born on February 18, 1957, in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Vanna’s parents split when she was a baby, and she was raised in North Myrtle Beach by her mother, Joan, and stepfather, Herbert White Jr.
White traveled to Atlanta after graduating from high school, where she attended the Atlanta School of Fashion and worked as a model. She moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to pursue an acting career, but she returned briefly to South Carolina in the summer of 1980 to see her mother, who was dying of ovarian cancer.
White returned to Hollywood with renewed zeal, landing a string of minor roles in mostly forgettable films, including the role of Mickey in Gypsy Angels (1980), a bit part in Looker (1981), co-starring with Albert Finney, and the small role of Doris in the high school thriller Graduation Day (1981). In 1982, she also starred in an episode of the TV show Star of the Family.
‘Wheel of Fortune’ Host
Later that year, in 1982, White landed the position that would launch her career. She was picked from among 200 applicants to join new host and former weatherman Pat Sajak on Merv Griffin’s NBC game show Wheel of Fortune.
Over the next few years, the show grew in popularity, and by 1986, a syndicated evening version drew 30 million viewers—twice as many as the No. 2 syndicated program, M*A*S*H—and grossed $100 million per year. Wheel of Fortune was seen by about 40 million people in 1999, its 16th year in syndication.
On Wheel of Fortune, White’s role as co-host and chief letter-turner while modeling an ever-changing line of designs swiftly made her a great star. Suddenly, “Vannamania” swept the country, and White quickly received a slew of rich advertising deals and even starred in the NBC film Venus: The Goddess of Love.
While some media analysts derided White for her weak acting talent and her role on Wheel as a non-speaking clotheshorse, the majority of viewers grew to like her, thanks in large part to her attractiveness, energy, and consistent charisma. Her fame as an icon peaked in the mid- to late-1980s.
In 1992, White was named the most frequent clapper on television by The Guinness Book of World Records, with an average of 720 claps per show and over 28,000 per season. Vanna Speaks, a ghostwritten autobiography of the game show host, was published in 1987.
White has said of her long tenure on Wheel of Fortune, “It’s not the most intellectual job in the world, but I do have to know the letters.” She also once joked, “When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off.”
When Sajak was hospitalized for emergency surgery in late 2019, White stepped in to host Wheel of Fortune by herself after more than three decades on the air. When Ryan Seacrest takes up hosting duties from Sajak in the fall of 2024, White will remain with the show.
Salary Dispute Amid Contract Negotiations
As her contract for the 2023-24 season came to an end, White demanded a raise, which she hadn’t gotten for the syndicated edition of Wheel of Fortune in 18 years. White recruited Bryan Freedman, a well-known and aggressive industry attorney, to negotiate a raise.
According to Puck, White’s compensation for the syndicated edition of the show was $3 million per year, over five times less than Pata Sajak’s, though she had previously gotten wage hikes for ABC’s Celebrity Wheel of Fortune version of the series.
After arduous talks, White secured a two-year contract extension in mid-September 2023. The terms of the contract were not made public, although TMZ said that White received a “substantial pay increase.”
Ex-Husband and Children
White’s personal life was struck by sorrow in 1986, when her longtime partner, soap opera star and Chippendales dancer John Gibson, died in an aircraft crash.
White married chef George San Pietro in 1990. Nicholas, their son, was born in 1994, and Giovanna, their daughter, was born in 1997. In 2002, White and San Pietro divorced.
She was engaged to financier Michael Kaye a few years later, but the couple never married. White went on to have a long-term relationship with real estate entrepreneur John Donaldson.