Vanna White has been gracing television screens across America for decades. Simply say "Vanna," and everyone will know who you’re talking about. After all, she is famous for turning letters on the puzzle board of TV game show Wheel of Fortune. The fresh-faced, young Southern girl from a small town in South Carolina was unknown when she was chosen as the new co-host to star on Wheel of Fortune with Pat Sajak, but now it’s hard to imagine the popular game show without her.
White has made a career out of knowing the alphabet, and she knows just how strange her job description is. "When I was having that alphabet soup, I never thought that it would pay off," White once joked (via Biography). Her presence on the show made her famous, and she’s enjoyed a nice life ever since.
But there’s a lot you probably don’t know about Vanna White. So, how did White come to be instantly recognizable? What kind of life did she lead before she debuted on Wheel of Fortune? Here’s a look at the stunning transformation of Vanna White.
Vanna White was raised in the South and adopted by her stepfather
Before she was Vanna White, she was Vanna Marie Rosich, which was her given name at birth. White was born in South Carolina in 1957, and she was raised in the town of North Myrtle Beach. "Growing up in a small town like North Myrtle Beach was awesome and to my benefit," White told Grand Strand magazine. "I’ve taken that small-town girl and same morals to Hollywood and still I feel I’m not that different."
White has Latin roots, as her father was born in Cuba and her grandparents are from Spain. Her father left when she was born, and her parents divorced when she was an infant, as noted by Biography. White was instead raised by her mother and her stepfather, Herbert White Jr., who legally adopted her when she was 3 years old.
It wasn’t until White was 12 years old that she learned Herbert was not her biological father. However, it doesn’t seem to have made any difference to White. She later said on Larry King Live, "My stepfather, Herbert, who is really my father. He’s raised me from the time I was three."
Vanna White started modeling as a teenager
After graduating from high school, Vanna White moved to Atlanta, Ga. for college. She enrolled in and attended the Atlanta School for Fashion and Design, and she studied topics like fashion merchandising and poise, according to CBS Sunday Morning, with the ultimate goal of becoming a professional model. Luckily, White’s college education worked in her favor since much of her role on Wheel of Fortune calls for her to be poised on camera.
After attending college in Atlanta, White made the decision to leave the East Coast and head to Hollywood. As is true of most young college graduates, her finances were low. "I had $1,000 to my name — $300 for the car, $700 for the apartment, and a job immediately … waitressing," White said in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning.
White’s foray into the world of professional modeling would prove difficult on the west coast, and she struggled to find work just as many others do when they arrive in Los Angeles. "I couldn’t pay the rent, and I was too proud to ask my dad for rent money," White told Biography. "So, I did some lingerie shots."
Vanna White got into pageantry at 21
Before leaving the East Coast to start her new life on the West Coast in Los Angeles, Vanna White participated in the Miss Georgia USA beauty pageant in 1978. If she had won the pageant, she would have then gone on to compete in the Miss USA pageant as the contestant representing Georgia. During the pageant, the host shared that her hobbies included playing the piano and the guitar. "I’m a professional model, and I’d like to advance my career in this business," White said during the pageant. "And I enjoy meeting people," she added.
When told she could be on her way to the Miss USA competition, White, who rocked a blue one-piece in the swimsuit competition, said, "I’m very excited." However, it was not meant to be, and White finished as the fourth runner up, according to TV Guide. What could have been!
Vanna White halted her career to care for her ailing mother
After making the decision to go to Los Angeles in her early 20s, Vanna White unfortunately wasn’t able to stay long. Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, White discovered that her mother was incredibly ill. She was sick with ovarian cancer (there are symptoms of ovarian cancer that are easy to miss), as noted by Grand Strand magazine, and she was not expected to live long. "It was very tough," White said in an interview on Larry King Live. "I went back home. I took care of the situation and then I came back out here, rearing to go." When asked if the "toughest loss of all" was her mother, White responded, "Absolutely."
White was very close with her mother, and she has always remembered her through all of her successes. "My mom Joan was the best mother ever! I love you with all my heart! You will always be with me in spirit," White wrote in an Instagram post on Mother’s Day 2015.
Vanna White appeared on The Price Is Right
Before Vanna White became a nightly fixture on our television screens, she first appeared on another beloved daytime TV game show. In 1980, White participated on The Price Is Right. She was 23 years old at the time and brand new to Los Angeles, having just moved there. Unfortunately, White’s time on The Price Is Right wasn’t very successful. "I didn’t win a doggone thing, except for those lovely parting gifts," White told Yahoo Superfan in 2016.
The most memorable part of her appearance on the game show was being called out by Bob Barker. He told her that she probably wasn’t doing too well with her price guesses because she kept looking at herself in the monitor. However, White had a different version of the story to tell. "I was looking at my friend to get an answer from her!" White told Yahoo Superfan. "It just looked like I was looking in the monitor."
Vanna White joined Pat Sajak as co-host of Wheel of Fortune
Vanna White’s big break in Hollywood came in the early 1980s, when she landed the co-host gig of Wheel of Fortune. White auditioned with 200 other women to fill the spot left vacant by the previous co-host, Susan Stafford. Merv Griffin, the show’s creator, was the one to ultimately decide on White as the new co-host. Pat Sajak actually didn’t recommend White and has since said that he told Griffin not to select her. "Not that she wasn’t lovely and wonderful and personable and all that, but she was the most nervous, by far, of any of them," Sajak told CBS Sunday Morning. Griffin didn’t listen to Sajak, and the rest, as they say, is history.
White has been co-hosting Wheel of Fortune with Sajak for decades. Shortly after White made her debut on the game show, "Vanna-mania" swept the nation. The American people couldn’t get enough of the beautiful woman turning the letters with a big smile on her face. When asked by CBS Sunday Morning about when she knew that she had made it big, White said, "That was when I was in the grocery line checking out, and I was on the cover of Newsweek. I thought: Wow, I guess I’ve made it."
Vanna White turned to Wheel of Fortune fans after a devastating loss
In 1986, a few years after joining Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White received heartbreaking news about her fiancé. She had been engaged to The Young and the Restless actor and Chippendales dancer John Gibson. Gibson had unfortunately died when the plane he was flying crashed near the Van Nuys airport in the San Fernando Valley, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. White was, of course, devastated by the news. "I was at the pinnacle of Vanna-mania when this tragically happened," White told Closer Weekly. "The support I got from my fans was so tremendous that it made me feel like I wasn’t alone."
America grieved along with White during this difficult time and lent as much support as they could to the game show co-host. "I heard from so many people who had shared the same experience of losing someone instantly in an accident, and that really helped me," White said in an interview with People. "I didn’t feel like I was alone."
How Vanna White wound up on the cover of Playboy
In 1987, Vanna White experienced both a career high and a career low. She released her autobiography entitled Vanna Speaks, as noted the Chicago Tribune. The cheeky title poked fun at her mostly silent role on the popular TV game show. However, White’s book release was overshadowed by bigger news. That year’s May issue of Playboy magazine featured Vanna White on the cover (via The Washington Post), and America was shocked.
When White had first arrived in Los Angeles, she had taken risqué lingerie photos in order to pay her rent. Those photos were purchased by Playboy‘s Hugh Hefner, who put them both as a spread in his magazine and on the cover (via Time). "He’s the one who put me on the cover of the magazine. I didn’t do it for Playboy," White told Fox News.
Luckily, the network behind Wheel of Fortune did not take action against White, who shared with Fox News, "I was very thankful that I had such support behind me." Soon enough, the American public forgave and forgot White’s scandalous photographs.
Vanna White married a restaurateur and publicly announced a pregnancy
After the sad loss of her fiancé in 1986, Vanna White found love with restaurateur George Santo Pietro, and White and Pietro got married. In 1992, the couple had an exciting announcement, and, of course, White took advantage of her day job in order to tell the world in a fun way. On an episode of Wheel of Fortune in 1992, a contestant solved a puzzle with the answer, "VANNA’S PREGNANT," as reported by the Los Angeles Times. It was a lovely way to share the news, but unfortunately, her announcement was premature.
White suffered a miscarriage shortly after. "I was so ready to be a mother," White said in an interview with Closer Weekly. "I don’t know how you describe that loss." In the face of such tragedy, White remembered the words her own mother had shared with her. "Never give up, no matter what," White recalled. "Follow your heart and follow your dream. And that’s what I did."
Vanna White became a mother
After so many tragic losses, it’s easy to think that Vanna White would lose motivation to keep trying to expand her family. However, she did not let the deaths of her mother and her fiancé, as well as her miscarriage, defeat her. In 1994, she and her husband, George Santo Pietro, welcomed a healthy baby boy named Nicholas, aka Nikko. A couple years later, White gave birth to a daughter named Giovanna, aka Gigi, as noted by Closer Weekly.
White and Pietro were now a family of four, and White had finally achieved her dream of becoming a mother two times over. "We’re faced with a lot of positives and negatives, and we have to accept them and do whatever we can to get through it," White told Closer Weekly. She added, "Life is not perfect; just try to make the best of it. Be strong, be kind to people, and be happy."
Unfortunately, White and Pietro would later divorce. After an engagement and breakup from Michael Kaye, a businessman, White would settle into a relationship with contractor John Donaldson, as reported by Closer Weekly.
Vanna White earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
When asked for the "proudest accomplishment" of her career by Larry King during a segment on Larry King Now, Vanna White said that getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was her No. 1 achievement. It is an understandable thing to be proud of, considering that not everyone in entertainment is given the honor. White received her star in April 2006, after more than 20 years of appearing on Wheel of Fortune.
"I remember my parents telling me, at the age of 10, ‘You can do anything you want.’ Dad, we did it!" White said at the ceremony celebrating the reveal of her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as reported by Herald Tribune. White was joined by her father, her co-host Pat Sajak, Wheel of Fortune creator Merv Griffin, and Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek when she was presented with her star, which was the 2,309th star on the Walk of Fame.
Vanna White launched her own line of yarn
Vanna White became a spokesperson for Lion Brand Yarn after first discussing her love of crochet on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with guest host Joan Rivers in 1986. Her knowledge of crochet grew even more when she released her own collection with Lion Brand Yarn in 2007 called "Vanna’s Choice."
White had first learned how to crochet when she was 5 years old, and her grandmother was the one who taught her how to do it. Years later on Wheel of Fortune, White saw her hairdresser crocheting on set. White picked up the hobby again after getting a refresher from her hairdresser, and White later taught her daughter how to crochet, too. "Whenever I have downtime on the set, I crochet. I find it very relaxing and I have something to show for the time I’ve spent doing it," White said in an interview with Etsy.
White donates half of her yarn’s proceeds. By 2016, she’d donated more than $1,700,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Vanna White set this world record
In 2013, Vanna White received an immense honor. She officially became the world’s most frequent clapper. On an episode of Wheel of Fortune in May 2013, a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records, Kimberly Partrick, presented White with the record certificate. "It was an honor to present this record to Vanna White and recognize her for the encouragement she has given contestants for the past 30 seasons on Wheel of Fortune," Partrick said.
Guinness stated that as of Jan. 31, 2013, White had clapped 3,480,864 times over 30 seasons of Wheel of Fortune. This number was reached by averaging 606 claps per episode. That sure is a lot of clapping, and White was recognized for the unbelievable accomplishment during the show’s taping. Since White’s record of more than 3 million claps was achieved in 2013, after 30 years of filming the TV game show, the number is certain to be significantly higher now.
Vanna White has never repeated an outfit on Wheel of Fortune
Vanna White is known for her wardrobe on Wheel of Fortune. The game show co-host spends every episode decked out in a fabulous dress with high heels. White’s dresses always manage to awe and inspire, but what is truly impressive is that in more than 35 years of filming, she has never worn the same dress twice, as White shared on The Wendy Williams Show. The count of how many dresses she has worn was believed to be around 6,500 in 2017, and that number just continues to rise as the show continues.
Before taping begins, White tries on a minimum of 50 dresses before selecting the ones that she will wear for the show, as reported by ABC News. With Wheel of Fortune recording six shows in one day (via Good Housekeeping), White has about ten minutes to change dresses between show tapings.
While White isn’t allowed to keep the dresses, according to InStyle, she does have some favorites after years of wearing so many different styles. It seems she selects her favorites due to their practicality. "I like wearing the short ones best," White told ABC News. "Just because I don’t trip."