It’s a small world. But the world of entertainment and television is apparently even smaller according to Wheel of Fortune star Vanna White.
In 2021, Vanna White’s hosting role on Wheel of Fortune has made her a household name known by several generations. With nearly 40 years of letter-turning and thousands of gorgeous gowns, she’s all but solidified herself as television royalty.
But that wasn’t always the case. Before she graced television sets on the show, she was looking for her break. A few movie and TV appearances aside, she wasn’t well known.
That all changed in the early 1980s, thanks, in part, to Janet Jones, better known as Janet Gretzky. The wife of “The Great One” was a contestant on Dance Fever, a musical variety show. Gretzky and White linked up, but it was a development years in the making.
White had Wheel of Fortune on her radar for quite some time beforehand, while she was still living thousands of miles away from Los Angeles.
“Yes, well, funny enough, before I even knew about the audition on Wheel of Fortune, I was a fan of the show,” White told Believer Magazine. “When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, before I moved to Los Angeles, I watched Wheel of Fortune. I even wrote in to be a contestant on the show. And they wrote back and said if you’re ever in Los Angeles, give us a call and you can come in and audition. Little did I know that many years later I would be coming in to audition to be the hostess on the show.”
Vanna White Gets Her Chance for Wheel of Fortune
The crucial connection Gretzky provided was to TV legend and Wheel of Fortune creator Merv Griffin. Griffin also created Dance Fever. When White was auditioning, Janet Gretzky, then Janet Jones, gave her an in.
“So the way I got the audition for that was I went to a taping of Dance Fever,” White said. “Which was a Merv Griffin show—he also owned Wheel of Fortune. And I knew one of the dancers on that show and I said, ‘Hey, can you introduce me to somebody here? I hear they’re looking for a replacement on Wheel of Fortune. I would love to audition.’ The person was Janet Jones, who is now Janet Gretzky, who’s married to Wayne. She introduced me to Merv’s right-hand man.”
However, White didn’t have the job secured just yet. She still needed a bit of luck and good timing. But when a deadline rolled around, White was quick to take her opportunity.
“He said, ‘Here’s my card. If we haven’t made a decision by October 5, you can come in and audition,'” White said. “So, ten o’clock I called him on October 5. He said they had not made a decision. So they put me on tape and I got the job. Two hundred other girls auditioned. I was the lucky one.”
Of course, White eventually had to ask Griffin what set her apart. With that level of competition, it does seem like a bit of a crapshoot.
While Griffin gave White an answer, it was always with a tinge of humor.
“Merv jokingly said when I asked him, ‘Why did you pick me?’ He said, ‘Well, you turned the letters better than anyone else.'”