Merv Griffin, the late “Wheel of Fortune” creator and media mogul, once told Vanna White that she and host Pat Sajak were like a brother-sister team – “like Ken and Barbie,” she said.
In a Television Academy Foundation interview posted in 2011, White explained what drove Griffin to pick her out of so many other contenders for the role. Griffin reportedly told her that she and Sajak had good chemistry.
“I asked Merv why he chose me,” White said. “And he said he felt like Pat and I were like a brother-sister team. We worked well together. He saw chemistry between the two of us, and just thought that America would love us as a team. Kind of like Ken and Barbie.”
‘Wheel of Fortune’ Was Vanna White’s Big Break
White’s own fortunes turned around at last when she landed the job on the show. She said she had been struggling to get by in Los Angeles for years when Griffin hired her, to the point where she wasn’t nervous at all about taking over for Susan Stafford.
“I didn’t feel any pressure,” White said. Instead, “I felt so thrilled – thrilled! – to have this job. I wanted it so badly.”
She explained, “I had been in Los Angeles struggling for almost three years. You know, waitressing and doing this [and that]. And I thought, ‘Wow! I finally don’t have to worry about paying the rent!’”
“I was grateful,” she added. “I was grateful and thankful, and I didn’t feel as nervous after I got the job.”
As for her chemistry with Sajak, White recently told Page Six that she and Sajak “never fight,” despite having worked at close quarters for 38 years.
White Is Just a South Carolina Girl At Heart
White grew up in North Myrtle Beach, then moved to Atlanta after she graduated high school to chase a modeling career. But she’d always wanted to be on TV, she told the “1-on-1 with Jon Evans” podcast. So she and a friend drove all the way to Los Angeles and found a cheap apartment. She started working as a waitress to get by.
White estimates it took “thousands” of auditions before she got the call to be on “Wheel of Fortune.” About 200 women auditioned for the role, but she got it.
And now, as a successful game show co-host, White still stops by North Myrtle Beach at least twice a year.
“I dress up on the show, all kinds of jewelry and high heels, beautiful gowns and such,” White said. “But I’m really a down home southern girl from South Carolina. It will always be my home.”
Watch a clip from the Television Academy Foundation interview here: