Nearly 40 years ago, Vanna White began turning the letters for hit game show Wheel of Fortune. In 2021, she’s a TV icon.
While she doesn’t do much actual turning these days (the letters are digitized screens,) she spent around 15 years rotating. After getting her start in 1982, the show featured physical letter turning all the way into 1997.
Back in those early days, Vanna White actually started in a competition. The previous hostess of Wheel of Fortune, Susan Stafford, had left the show in the fall of 1982. Conversely, in search of her replacement, the show had three substitutes try their hand at the letters.
Alongside White were Vicki McCarty and Summer Bartholomew. It only took a few months for Vanna White to lock down the permanent hosting job in December of 1982.
That first letter she ever turned as the permanent hostess? That turned out to be a “T”. Furthermore, the answer ended up being the title of famous soap opera, General Hospital.
In the video above, you can see her introduction from legendary host Pat Sajak, as well as that first letter. The enjoyment and excitement on White’s face is palpable in the clip.
Pat Sajak Thought Vanna White Wouldn’t Work Out on Wheel of Fortune
With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like White would always be a great choice for the role of hostess. After all, she was gorgeous and had some on-screen experience beforehand.
However, Pat Sajak explained that he wasn’t convinced. This wasn’t due to her personality or looks, but due to her nerves.
“I thought Vanna was a terrible choice. Not that she wasn’t beautiful and charming and the sweetest person you ever wanted to know. She was so darn nervous when she did it,” Sajak said to the Television Academy Foundation. “I mean you could barely see past her quivering lip. I thought I don’t know if she can get over this. She’s swell and obviously easy on the eyes and all that. And she seemed like she would be easy to work with.”
Instead, Sajak was backing the other substitutes, Bartholomew and McCarty to win. He was also in the relatively early days of the show, but if anyone knew what it took, it was Sajak.
But what White lacked in confidence, she made up for with passion and intuitiveness. Sajak said that the host wasted little time getting adjusted and learning the ropes.
“She really blossomed and became really comfortable very quickly. And the other great thing about Vanna is she really wanted to learn about this business,” Sajak continued.