Television game show hostess and actress. Born Vanna Marie Rosich, on February 18, 1957, in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Her parents divorced when Vanna was less than a year old, and she was raised by her mother, Joan, and stepfather, Herbert White Jr., in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. After graduating from high school, White moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended the Atlanta School of Fashion and worked as a model. She headed to Los Angeles in 1979 to pursue an acting career, but returned briefly to South Carolina during the summer of 1980, when her mother was dying of ovarian cancer.
White returned to Hollywood with renewed resolve and earned a series of minor acting jobs in largely forgettable films, including a bit part in Looker, starring Albert Finney, and a small role in the high school thriller, Graduation Day (1981). In 1982, however, White got the job that would make her career. She was chosen out of 200 applicants to join new host and former weatherman, Pat Sajak, on the NBC game show, Wheel of Fortune, created by entertainment giant Merv Griffin. The show met with tremendous success over the next several years, and by 1986 a syndicated evening version attracted 30 million viewers, twice as many as the No. 2 syndicated program, M*A*S*H, and grossed $100 million a year. In 1999, its 16th year in syndication, Wheel of Fortune was seen by approximately 40 million people.
White’s position as hostess and chief letter-turner on Wheel of Fortune made her a huge star. Suddenly, “Vannamania” was sweeping the country — she earned a number of lucrative endorsement contracts and even starred in a NBC movie Venus: The Goddess of Love. More skeptical media observers mocked White for her limited acting ability and her position on Wheel as a non-speaking clotheshorse, but she undoubtedly became somewhat of an iconic figure in American pop culture, especially during the mid- to late 1980s. In 1992, White was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as TV’s most frequent clapper, with an average of 720 claps per show and over 28,000 per season. A ghostwritten autobiography, Vanna Speaks, was published in 1987.
White’s personal life was marked by tragedy in 1986, when her longtime lover John Gibson, a soap opera actor and Chippendale dancer, died in a plane crash. In 1990, she married George Santo Pietro, a restauranteur. Their son, Nicholas, was born in 1992; a daughter, Giovanna, arrived in 1997. White and Santo Pietro divorced in 2002.