10 Things You Might Not Know About “Wheel of Fortune” Star Vanna White
Vanna White has been revealing letters on the Wheel of Fortune puzzle board for more than four decades and even hosted the popular TV game show in 2019. But she’s never tried her luck as a contestant—until now.
White, 66, will take her turn spinning and solving on Wednesday as part of a special “Ultimate Host Night” episode of Wheel. Guessing letters alongside her will be Jeopardy! emcees Mayim Bialik and Ken Jennings, with their winnings going to charity.
It’s a rare opportunity more than 40 years in the making for White, who replaced model Susan Stafford as the show’s full-time letter-turner in 1982. Her popularity quickly resulted in a wave of “Vannamania,” and she and Wheel host Pat Sajak have gone on to become one of the most iconic television duos of all-time.
In honor of White’s turn behind the wheel, here are a few things you might not know about the North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, native.
White was adopted by her stepfather
Vanna Marie Rosich was born on February 18, 1957, to parents Joan Marie and Miguel Angel Rosich. White’s father left when she was just a few months old. When she was 2, she was adopted by her stepfather, Herbert Stackley White Jr., and took his name. The two remained close throughout Vanna’s career and up until his death on April 1, 2022. She said on a 2021 episode of Wheel that she called him “every morning to say good morning and that I love him.”
She was a struggling actor before Wheel
Prior to her big break on Wheel, White was a down-on-her-luck actor. She first moved to Los Angeles in 1979 after attending the Atlanta School of Fashion but returned home in 1980 to be with mother, who would soon die of ovarian cancer.
After returning to L.A., White had a handful of minor roles in films like Graduation Day (1981) and Gypsy Angels, which would not be released until years later in 1990. But she wasn’t making a lot of money, telling the Associated Press in 1986 she slept on the floor of her apartment at one point because she didn’t have a bed. She also tended bar and waited tables.
She finally got the audition that would change her life in November 1982, impressing Wheel creator Merv Griffin. She was hired on Thanksgiving Eve. “I was so nervous because I wanted this job so badly,” White recalled. “My knees were shaking; my mouth was quivering; I could hardly talk.”
White’s first letter on Wheel was “T”
Up until 1997, White had to manually turn tiles on the puzzle wall as contestants guessed correct letters. Now the board is computerized, so she only has to touch the board to reveal correct letters. Computerization also means the board can be updated more quickly—allowing Wheel to tape a week’s worth of shows in one day.
In order to get the job done right, White is given the answers to the puzzles in advance so she knows where the letters are located. Even so, she once turned around the wrong letter to a puzzle, which had to be thrown out.
White has repeated only one outfit
According to her home page on the Wheel of Fortune site, White has worn more than 7,000 ensembles during her time on the show. After a nearly 40-year streak of wearing a different outfit for each episode, she finally repeated one in September 2020. The show also has a Pinterest page dedicated to White’s wardrobe in case Wheel watchers are ever looking for inspiration.
White received a Guinness record for clapping
In 2013, the Guinness Book of World Records deemed White the most frequent clapper in television history. By 2015, it was estimated that White had clapped more than 3.7 million times over her 32 seasons on the show to encourage contestants. That works out to an average of 606 claps per episode. An updated estimate in 2022 suggested her number of claps had grown to more than 4.5 million.
White likes to crochet
White doesn’t waste time at the studio when she isn’t on camera. In the makeup room and between takes, you can often find her crocheting. “I love making handmade gifts,” she says. “People just don’t do it anymore… It is just special. I made a baby blanket for both of my children and brought them home from the hospital in them, and they will always have them.”
White appeared in—and sued—Playboy
A lot of fans were shocked when White was featured in the May 1987 issue of Playboy magazine. According to The Washington Post, White appeared on the cover wearing only a long-sleeve shirt, and the inside spread featured her seminude in suggestive poses. However, White didn’t pose for the magazine; the photos were actually from 1982 and later purchased by Hugh Hefner.
White subsequently filed a $5.2 million lawsuit against Playboy, claiming the photos would tarnish her image, and also sued Hefner in federal court. But by later that year, White dropped both suits. She also offered a public apology during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
White really profits from slot machines
White’s net worth is estimated to be around $85 million—with a salary of around $10 million for her role on Wheel. But according to Brian Warner of Celebrity Net Worth, White actually makes more money per year, around $15 million, by licensing her name and image for casino slot machines. As of 2022, there were 250 iterations of Wheel slot machines in use that have paid out more than $3.3 billion since their debut in 1996.
She’s made plenty of TV cameos
Although her acting career prior to Wheel was a struggle, White has parlayed her role on the show into a number of guest appearances on scripted TV programs. According to IMDb, she most recently appeared as herself on the ABC comedy Fresh Off the Boat in 2017. She has also had cameo roles on episodes of The A-Team, 227, L.A. Law, Full House, Just Shoot Me!, Married... With Children, and The King of Queens.
White was also a participant on another big game show before she became famous. She made it to contestants row during an episode of The Price Is Right on June 20, 1980.
White likes to give back
On Wednesday’s “Ultimate Host” episode of Wheel, White is playing for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which isn’t a coincidence. She’s raised money for the institution before.
Seeing an opportunity to do good with her crocheting hobby, White created her own line of yarns called “Vanna’s Choice” through Lion Brand. She has donated half of the proceeds to St. Jude, with over $2 million raised as of April 2019.
“Having grown up in the South, it reminds me of my roots,” White said of St. Jude. “My mother passed away from cancer, and many of my family members have had cancer. I’m fortunate to have two healthy kids. And I’m happy to do my part to help St. Jude help children get healthy.”