VANNA SPEAKS

By Vanna White,

with Patricia Romanowski

Foreword by Pat Sajak

Warner. 191 pp. $15.95

Mouths dry, brows sweating, hands itching to grab hold of the wheel that might win them a trip to Dollywood (Dolly Parton's theme park) or a Mr. Meat meat smoker, contestants look to the high priestess of game shows for spiritual guidance and letter turning. "Oh, Vanna!" "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak coos, and the sleek blond beauty materializes, a mute cheerleader, a one-woman Greek chorus for her contestants, applauding and encouraging, pantomiming tragedy for those inevitable boo-boos -- offering the kind of pitiful expressions that little Shirley Temple perfected as she was perennially dragged off by the authorities.

For this reason, Vanna White has been embraced to America's collective bosom as the pop culture phenomenon of 1987, adorning, as Sajak puts it, "more magazine covers than the universal pricing code." On "Wheel of Fortune," which commands an audience of 43 million daily, her success is predicated on her complete ingenuousness, her all-American cheerleading overcoming all obstacles: Vanna White really means it. But the hostess remains an enigma to millions, which is the reason for this book. White wants to put an end to the tabloid speculation about her private life: her friendship with Sajak; her romance with the late John Gibson, a Chippendale's dancer and soap star; and those notorious "lingerie" ads currently on display in Playboy.

But the book gets away from her.

White does speak up in "Vanna Speaks," but the problem is she never knows quite when to shut up. She's like a Chatty Cathy on speed, prattling endlessly about the most banal subjects under the sun, and her publisher hasn't helped her out by printing an ostentatious heart on the top of each page. Indeed, you're surprised Warner Books didn't dot her i's with circles.

White begins by discussing her fan mail. "I've received photographs of a white puppy named Vanna, and of a cat who runs to the television whenever her master calls out, 'Vanna's on,' and watches the whole show. You might think that's crazy, but I wrote to the cat." She was "also tickled to read that some little girl has written to tell me that she's rechristened her Barbie doll Vanna. Having been a big Barbie fan myself, I can appreciate that."

Then we get a blow-by-blow description of her typical day. She sleeps till 9 in the morning, when she is awakened by her two cats, Rhett and Ashley. She does 25 sit-ups, brushes her teeth, then does 25 more sit-ups. She makes freshly ground, cinnamon-spiced coffee, takes a shower and answers her fan mail. Two days a week, she tapes "Wheel of Fortune," and, no, she doesn't get to choose or keep the clothes she wears on the show. The jewelry she wears is paste ("one to five dollars a piece"). During slow periods, she loves crocheting (afghan instructions included).

White also offers enough household hints to give Heloise a migraine: use vinegar on your bathtub ring, clean sterling silver with toothpaste (use your fingers, not the brush) and rub raw onion into the carpet to remove those embarrassing pet odors.

Much later in the book, she assures us that she only endorses products she believes in: "I eat at McDonald's (I love their fries with lots of ketchup); I sleep on Spring Air mattresses; I eat Nestle's chocolate (probably more than I should!); and I use my Buf-Puf every day, and have for years."

The rest of the book is taken up by her pursuit of the American dream: She went to the Atlanta School of Fashion and Design, where the loveliest model turned out to be a guy. She tried marijuana but porked out on an entire meat loaf afterward, which ended her experiment with drugs. Then she moved to Hollywood, where at her nadir she posed for those "lingerie" ads. (Has White actually seen the pictures in Playboy? There isn't very much lingerie showing.) Then -- presto! -- "Wheel of Fortune": "Merv {Griffin, the creator} thought I turned the letters better than anyone else."

The rare sections in which her cowriter, editor and publisher exhibit White as less than a total airhead are in the enlightening descriptions of her special relationship with her mother; her affair with Gibson and his death in a plane crash; and a peek into the production of "Wheel of Fortune," with its backstage shenanigans and bloopers presented with easy charm and aplomb. This should have been the book's focus -- a Cinderella story told with introspection, care and reflection. Instead, it splinters into a thousand directions.

The reviewer, author of "The Soap Opera Encyclopedia" and "Guiding Light: A 50th Anniversary Celebration," is working on a history of television game shows.