“If a tax hike makes it to my desk, I’ll veto it in less time than it takes Vanna White to turn the letters V-E-T-O.’’
With a presidential punch line, Vanna’s place on “Wheel” was solidified. She’d go on to clap through pregnancy, childbirth, divorce, the deaths of loved ones — the big moments of both our lives and hers. She lost her fiance, Chippendales-dancer-turned-actor John Gibson, in a plane crash in 1986, one of the rare times she missed work. The next week, she returned to the puzzle board, smiling.
Forty-some countries have licensed “Wheel of Fortune.” Most of those versions have taut and toned women turning or touching letters a la Vanna. Generations of critics have quibbled with her silent presence, her sequins, her antiquated role. In the ’80s, Adweek said she typified “the bimbosity” of American culture and the satirist Russell Baker quipped, “I refuse to learn what Vanna White is.” More recently, in 2008, the New Yorker called her “a perfect Barthesian blank: blond and white, with little if any reference to ethnicity,” a surprise to Vanna, since her biological father was Puerto Rican. She’s “proud to have Latin blood,” she says.
But “Wheel” has long played up the absurdity of Vanna’s role. Indeed, it playfully mocks her silence at live tapings, where Sajak often teases her for not having (or really needing) a microphone.
“Oh, you don’t have a mike?” He asks. “Go ahead and talk into my chest, and take all the time you need!”
Vanna obliges, the audience laughs, and their banter continues. She calls him “boss.” He calls her “one hot babe.”
Vanna chalks all this up to the absurdity of her job.
“I’ve dealt with criticism by making fun of my job,” Vanna says. “It is what it is. I’ll be the first to make to fun of it. It’s funny.”
“If you ask Vanna what she does for a living, she doesn’t say, ‘Well, I want to direct one day,’ ” Sajak says. “She says, ‘I touch letters and they light up.’ We’re alike in that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
But Vanna does take her image seriously. She won’t argue with those who think she’s a robotic object, but she has sued them: In 1993, she sued Samsung for intellectual property infringement when it portrayed a robot in a blond wig turning letters on a game show. She won the lawsuit, proving that sometimes, she means business.