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Life is for living. Let's partner for all of it. Learn more at edwardjones.com. Hi, I'm Jane Pauley, and this is our Sunday Morning Extra, a podcast featuring a memorable story from our latest show. This week, Vanna White. She's been revealing letters on Wheel of Fortune for nearly 40 years.
Now she's revealing even more to our morocca. Where did the name Vanna come from? My grandmother's next-door neighbor. Her name was Vanna Whirl, and my mother loved the name Vanna. She spelled it V-A-N-A. My mother changed it to V-A-N-N-A. And it just rolls right off the tongue. It's such a great name, but it's distinctive.
It is. Growing up, it was a little difficult because it was an unusual name. And Vanna, Vanya, Vanna.
How do you say it? Vanna. I wonder how many people think it's a stage name and would be surprised that it is your name.
A lot of people think it's short for Vanessa. What was it like growing up in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina? It was wonderful. Back then, we didn't have to lock our doors. We left the keys in the car.
It was a population of about 5,000 people. It was just wonderful. I'd ride my bike and do all those things that we did as kids. And the beach was just part of growing up? For sure. We'd go and lay on the beach with our reflectors and baby oil and just loved every minute of it.
Right. What were you watching on TV growing up? I watched Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, The Real McCoys was even on. Oh my gosh, am I going way back?
You're going way back because The Real McCoys, people don't realize is sort of the predecessor kind of to the Beverly Hillbillies kind of. Did you watch game shows? I did. As a matter of fact, Concentration was one of my game shows that I loved to watch.
And I even went to New York when I was 12 years old and went to the set of Concentration. Are you kidding? Yes, I did. I did. Hugh Downs.
Hugh Downs, right. And so was that kind of... So you were interested enough in it that it's not entirely surprising that you'd end up doing this. No, and I grew up playing games too. We played all the board games, Life, Monopoly, Parcheesi. We played all those games.
So games has been in my life my whole life. And I read somewhere that used to shoot marbles. Yes, I did in school.
Did you? I have to tell you, I'm not sure how you play marbles. Is it... I know it's a circle and a bunch of marbles. Yes, and you try to hit the marbles out and you get to keep the marbles that you hit out of that circle.
Oh, so the object is just to get them out of the circle. I think that's the way I remember it. Again, it was so long ago, but no, I remember playing that in school all the time and I was a sharpshooter. I was a big one. I had a big sock of marbles.
Right, I love that. And was your family big? I grew up with a younger brother. So basically it was the four of us.
Okay, that's nice. And what did your parents do for a living? My dad worked in the post office for 30 years.
He was a postmaster. My mother was an accountant. She did taxes and so she was a bookkeeper and we had a normal life. We'd come home and or after school I'd come home. We'd all have dinner about six o'clock. We all had dinner together.
Again, it was just real normal. Right, and if you don't mind my asking, I read somewhere when you were 14, you found out that your father was actually your stepfather. Yes, actually I was 12. Both my mother and father came to me and said, you have a real father. My father that I knew as a father, he adopted you when you were three.
So we wanted to wait till you were 12 to tell you so you could understand and if you would like to meet him, we would like for you to just meet him. So that was my first trip to New York. And then you met him. And then I met him.
And was this all kind of head spinning for you or were you just kind of resilient? You know what, I thought to myself when I first saw him for the first time, my real father, I thought, gosh I look just like you. But he was kind of a stranger. But I respected him and I was very thankful that he gave me a life. And we remained close. He of course lived in New York and I lived in South Carolina at the time.
And we would correspond with letters and so forth. And my grandparents as well. So I was very close. And unfortunately he passed away about 10 years after that.
10 years after that. So you were still very young. Yeah. And was he Cuban? He was born in Havana, Cuba.
Yes, he was. And then they moved to Puerto Rico. And so, and eventually then you left North Myrtle Beach and you went to study in Atlanta.
Yes. What was that like? Well, when I graduated from high school, I wanted to be on TV. I wanted to be in the movies, but I felt coming from a small town, I should at least go to a big city close by before I go all the way to Los Angeles. So I moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Attended a fashion college.
Took some acting classes. And I ended up loving the city life. So five years after that in 1980, I moved to Los Angeles. You packed up the car. I didn't even have a car at the time. I drove out there with a friend in a 20-foot U-Haul truck.
Okay. And I bought a little car and a Pinto, a white Pinto, for a few hundred dollars. And I had to pay first and last month's rent, which was $700.
I had a thousand dollars to my name, 300 for the car, 700 for the apartment, and a job immediately. And a job, what was the job? Waitressing. I got a waitressing job.
Boy. And had you waitressed before? I did. You had, you had done it before. When I was in high school, yes.
In the summer I would waitress. And were you, I mean, more scared, excited, even like... I wasn't scared at all.
I don't know why. I had such a strong drive to be on TV. I really did. From the time I was 10 years old, I will tell you that story too. I was 10 years old.
I just had my appendix taken out. I'm laying on the sofa and rat patrol comes on TV. It was an old TV show. And my mother's in the kitchen cooking and she goes, oh, that's your uncle, Christopher George. So my uncle, I have an uncle on TV.
I want to be on TV. That's where it started when I was 10. That's so interesting. So it was both a dream, but it also seemed kind of attainable because you had a relative on TV.
I think that's what did it. If he can do it, I can do it. And by the way, did you ever meet this uncle?
Yes, I did when I came to Los Angeles. Great. That's so fun. I don't know that show. What was Rat Patrol? Rat Patrol was, it was an army show.
There were Jeeps and all that stuff. Yes. And so, at what point were you doing, you did hand modeling for a while?
I did. I was able to get a couple of modeling jobs, including my hands, which was great. That's the best because you don't have to put makeup on. You can just stick your hand out there. But we had Sunday morning, we wanted to story on hand models and it was, and people were totally fascinated because some of the top hand models, I mean, they had to protect their hands like concert pianists. I mean, did you have to be a little bit careful? No, I wasn't. I just got lucky and got the job.
So I wasn't planning on having a hand modeling job, but it just worked out. Great. And then you actually were on a game show, a different game show. Yes.
Which was? I was on The Price is Right. I came on down and I didn't want a doggone thing. Did you get up on stage? Yes. So you did because not everyone makes it from the panel, right?
The first thing. So you did get up on there. I got on stage and Bob Barker, I kept looking in the monitor for my girlfriend to get the answer. It's like, what do I do?
What do I say? And he goes, if you'd stop looking at yourself in the monitor, you might win something. I wasn't looking at myself in the monitor. I was looking for my friend. Bob Barker throwing shade, right? I mean, way back then.
And let me tell you something else. Oddly enough, we taped Wheel of Fortune there for a period of time. I had the same dressing room as Bob Barker years later. So it all worked out. It certainly did work out.
All right. So how did you get the job on Wheel of Fortune? I went to a taping of Dance Fever, which was a Merv Griffin show.
And I heard they were looking for a replacement on Wheel of Fortune. And just so happened Merv's right-hand man, Murray Schwartz, was there. So I had a friend, Janet Jones, who's now Janet Gretzky, was one of the dancers. Mary DeWayne Gretzky.
Mary DeWayne Gretzky. She introduced me to Murray. And of course I said, hey, if you haven't found a replacement for Wheel of Fortune, could I come in and audition? He gave me his card. He said, you call me on October 5th. And if we haven't chosen someone, you can come in and audition. 10 o'clock on October 5th, I called. He said, come on in.
All right. What I love about this story so far also is that you're determined, but you're also very polite because you didn't sort of say, I'm going to call the day before. You waited until he told you when you could call. I did. You were very professional about it. Yes, I was.
Yeah. And so then you called and you said, we haven't found anyone. Come on in.
He did. So I went to the studio. They shot me turning letters and meeting Pat. And they put me on the air for a week. They couldn't decide between me and one other girl who was Vicki McCarthy, who is now Vicki Iovine, who is also a friend of mine.
She wrote several books. Great friend. I have a feeling you have a lot of long term friends. I do. Yeah. It started from the time I was born.
As a matter of fact, every October, I go back to my hometown with all my high school girlfriends, not all of them, but there's about eight or 10 of us that meet every year and have a long girls weekend. You know, sometimes people say, you know, I'm just wondering if you have kind of a motto in terms of how you approach work. I mean, do you make sure not to take it too seriously or you do take it seriously or I don't know, you know. As far as work goes, I do take it seriously. I'm on time. I'm never late. I go by the book.
Whatever it is, I am there. I'm professional. And do I take my job seriously? Not what I do. I turn letters. Okay.
Or touch letters now. And that's my job. I'll be the first to make fun of it, shall we say. It is what I do. And I feel very lucky that I was able to get this job. I love what I do and you can call it whatever it is, but it's my job and it's great. And by the way, do you miss turning the letters?
I'm serious. No, you know, I said, is there any way you can make my job easier? I didn't really say that, but it saved a lot of time when I used to physically turn the letters as we all know, but it took time because they had to manually stop tape and change those letters, which was a couple of hours at least to do. So when they turned it into a computerized puzzle board, it went like that.
So it saved hours and production, money and hours. Yeah. They were rolling that whole thing off and replacing them manually, right? Yes.
Every puzzle. So can you imagine how long that takes? Right.
That's a big difference in time. So back to how you got the job then. So then you and Vicki each did a week.
Yes. Then you got a call. Then I got a call. The day before Thanksgiving in 1982, I got a call from the producer saying, you got the job.
Right. Best Thanksgiving ever. I still thank God every day for my job. I do love it. 37 years I've been doing it and still like it and love it. You know, it's very, it's funny because those days of job security where people would stay with a company from start to finish of their careers, for a whole host of reasons, they don't exist anymore. So there's something special about being at a place for a long time.
Yes. It's great. We have a huge family here at Wheel of Fortune. There's probably about 150 people, staff and crew that have been on this show forever.
I'm talking about these kids that started out of college. They now have four kids of their own. We just have gone through a couple of generations and it's wonderful. I come to work and it's my second family.
CBS Sunday Morning is also, I guess what you'd call a legacy program. There's something special about that because you probably have, do you have people that come up to you and say, my grandmother and I watched this together when I was growing up. It gets to a certain depth. What kinds of things do people say to you? Just like you said, I've watched you my whole life or my grandmother and I watched you and you taught me the alphabet.
You taught me how to speak English. Really? Yes. People will say that.
People for whom English is a second language. Just yesterday. Yes. Someone said that to us at the end of the show.
Yes. It's a half hour of family fun. I think families get together. Life is so crazy these days and there's a lot of things on TV that are crazy. It's 30 minutes of safe family fun and it's educational. Right.
Almost like an oasis or something. That's really what the show is about to you, right? It is.
Why not? It's a family show and everybody is so familiar with it. Everybody.
All ages. Someone has a story about watching Wheel of Fortune. And can you recall any of those that maybe really touched you or surprised you? Yes.
I remember one in particular. The guy went in a brand new car and he turned to Pat and said, I don't have to take the bus anymore. So we change people's lives. People pay off, kids pay off student loans. They buy their first house. They go on a honeymoon. They start businesses.
They help charities. That is really sweet that that man said I don't have to take the bus anymore. Yeah.
That really touched me. We hear stories like that all the time. So was it Merv Griffin's decision solely? He was in charge. I think it was Merv.
I think Merv is the one who made that final decision. And did you ask him why he chose you? I did. And he said, first of all, you and Pat make a great brother-sister team. I see you guys together.
And you did turn the letters better than anyone else. Well, it's interesting when you mention a brother-sister dynamic with Pat. Because that's the kind of appeal that endures, right? Is that, do you think, part of the magic?
I do. I think that Pat's personality and my personality go together. He makes me look good, I think. In the beginning, I was so nervous. And he took me under his wing.
And now he's like a big brother to me. And I think people see that. They see our relationship and what a good relationship it is.
And I don't know. I think that when people tune in, they enjoy it. It's like, in the old days, I would call it Ken and Barbie. We're kind of like Ken and Barbie. I don't know what you would call us today. We've been there for so long. Pat and Vanna.
Pat and Vanna. You guys are sort of the model for this kind of a thing. But the audience is smart, right? They can tell when people like each other, do you think?
Yes. The camera never lies. Don't you agree with that? I agree.
Never lies. And we genuinely like each other. Like each other. And that, I think, has to be a big part of the appeal and why the show has gone on and on and on.
Why not? I don't know what the answer is, but I think that is definitely a part of it. It has so many little pieces. Pat and me together as a team.
I think a lot of people like to see what I'm wearing. Yeah. Can I ask you about a difficult time in your life in 1986 when you were engaged? Yes.
Yes. My boyfriend at the time was killed in a plane crash. That was devastating. And I know there's a lot of people out there that lose relatives, loved ones, suddenly. And it is, of course, the hardest thing to go through. But again, all my fans were so supportive. And they, I received tons of fan mail of letters.
I've been through this and they helped me by describing their stories. And it just made me feel like I wasn't the only one. Did you think at the time, obviously your life was very much changed. Did you think maybe I'll stop doing the show or what course my life will take?
No, I didn't think that at all. As a matter of fact, the show was my anchor. I was so thankful that I had it and I had such support around me and such love around me. They really just hugged me and everybody made me feel stronger and helped me get better. And as time went on, it healed. And again, I'm so thankful that I was doing what I was doing on Wheel of Fortune and had all that support and love. Were you surprised by the outpouring of fan support and love? I was.
I don't know how to describe that. Anyone who's been through that knows you just feel dead yourself and you don't want to go on. But again, the show and the fans and everybody around me just gave me such support and pushed me up and I made it through. At what point did you realize, oh boy, I'm a household name.
I'm a first name only person, Vanna, like that big. 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. Did you have any sense of, oh boy, there's no turning back now?
No. You were just happy. I was very happy. I was doing what I wanted to do. And the whole reason I wanted to be on TV was to be a good role model for people.
Okay. Tell me more about that. I just felt, I don't know. I grew up, my parents growing up in a small town, my parents were kind people and so they taught me to be kind. And I think we need more kindness in this country, in the world. So I don't know.
I've just always wanted to try to be a good role model for people and what a better way. I was fortunate to get to play myself instead of another character. Right.
Because you are Vanna White when you're up there. It's not a character. Correct. Right?
Yes. But once I was doing a project with Andy Richter, Conan O'Brien's psychic, and he said, oh, Conan says you have to swim against the tide when you're very famous of all the flattery, of the you're wonderful, you're wonderful. Because if you start believing too much of it, you go nuts. So when you're talking about going back and being with your girlfriends and back in South Carolina, are there things you do kind of consciously to sort of stay grounded? You know, I think I'm pretty grounded. Even today. I remember before I became famous, I saw a couple of famous people who were not very nice to people. And I thought, if I ever become famous, I'm not going to treat people that way. We're all the same. We're all created the same. You've done over 7,000 episodes.
Yes. How many different dresses? Over 7,000. I've never worn the same dress twice. What happens to the dresses? Most of them go back to the designer. They're usually borrowed dresses from the designers.
They send their samples and I wear them and then they take them back. Is that because that's part of the appeal of the show? What's she going to wear this time? I think so. I think from the very beginning, it's been part of it. So it has worked and I enjoy doing it. I feel like I'm a Barbie doll dressing up every day.
So when I'm not on camera, I'm not in dresses. But I will tell you, I do miss showcase shopping. You do? I kind of do.
You mean that lovely sofa and the ceramic Dalmatian? No. Do you? Well, I mean, it was fascinating to see the choices that people would make.
I never understood why people didn't just take it all on account, right? Yeah. Just take the cash. Could you do that though? I think there were rules against it. I think you had to spend a certain amount of money.
But I love that you just mentioned a ceramic Dalmatian. Yes, I agree. To spend money on that did seem like a foolhardy decision. But I wonder why, I guess, I don't know if you can answer this. Why did they get rid of it?
I think they thought cash would be better. Right. And I have to ask, have you ever seen those video compilations of Wheel of Fortune Fails? Oh, yes. Yes. I mean, do you have a favorite one?
Oh my goodness. I feel so bad because those contestants go through so much and they're so nervous up there. I just feel bad for them that, you know, they call a wrong letter or say it the wrong way. I'm trying to think one that comes to mind. Do you have a couple? Yeah.
There's a group of pill pushers. There's a street car naked desire. That was a big one. Leather mullet. What was it?
Oh, it's supposed to be leather wallet. This was a big one. Miners and hoes. But I actually don't know what it was supposed to be. So that's a good question. I'll have to get the answer for you. I don't remember. And then there was a great one where all three contestants said the pointed desert.
It was the painted desert. But you're empathetic. Of course I am. I feel so bad for them when that happens because I'm sure it's amazing. I'm sure that it's embarrassing to them, but don't be embarrassed.
It's okay. Do you ever want to have you ever come close to bursting into tears, you know, on the show at happiness for somebody or? Of course. My heart just gets so warm when I see people win. And I think that's the biggest key to the success of the show.
Everyone loves to see a winner. November 8th, 2019. November 8th, 2019. That was the day, I believe, that the executive producer, I think Harry Friedman, came to you and said, That's the day. Oh my goodness.
Yes, that was the day. He came to me at 10 in the morning and said, Pat's in the hospital. He's going into surgery.
How would you feel about hosting the show? I thought, what? No, you're kidding me. First of all, how's Pat?
Pat's fine. But I didn't know what to say. I didn't really want to do it because it's so not part of me. It's like, how do I do that? I can't fill his shoes.
I don't know what to do. I've been watching him for 37 years, but not really watching him and paying attention, but I've been working with him. And I just, I said yes. I said yes, because I felt the show must go on. Were you as nervous as you were when you did that first week of tapings back in 1982? Probably more nervous because I knew there were millions of people watching and I wanted to do a good job and it was way out of my comfort zone. So it was a big challenge for me. Would you ever want to do it again?
It's not at the top of my list. I love being there. I love doing it.
I did. It was fun. It was fine, but I was so nervous. Maybe if I did it a few more times, I would feel better about it, but I'm my worst critic.
And what do you think you did less than perfectly? I just wasn't, I don't know how to describe it. I wasn't comfortable. I wasn't, I couldn't see. I couldn't see the scoreboard.
It was way far away. Pat has better eyesight than me. Are you ever worried that a robot's going to take your job? No, no, I'm not. Uh, should I be?
Actually, if they were ever going to replace you with a robot, the technology already exists now, so you're in the clear. Yes. Right.
Yeah. See, I say they need my touch. Only my touch lights up those letters. Don't tell them.
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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-28 09:20:23 / 2023-01-28 09:31:34 / 11