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Why Is Vanna White Famous?

April 29, 1987 GMT

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) _ Vanna White turns cards on ″Wheel of Fortune.″ She waves, she giggles and says bye-bye. She also eats, breathes and wears designer dresses.

In short, this blond goddess of game show glitz can do a whole lot more than a Barbie doll and is just as famous.

″When people call me a celebrity, I find that amazing. I don’t think of myself as a celebrity,″ said Miss White, co-star with host Pat Sajak of television’s most popular game show.

″Wheel of Fortune″ has been the No. 1 syndicated program since 1984, with 38 million viewers daily watching Vanna White reveal letters in a word puzzle for three contestants. She claps and smiles widely while they spin the wheel, cheering them on to ″big money″ and a chance to win ″fabulous prizes″ - trips to San Francisco, ceramic pigs, brass beds and dinette sets. The big winner of the day can even try to win a car.

When the wheel turns up with a losing spot or when a contestant names the wrong letter of the alphabet, Miss White turns her toothy smile into a frown.

But she’s realistic about her acting talents.

″I can’t just go into the lead of a feature film right now,″ she said. ″People aren’t ready for that, and I’m not ready for that. People know me as a letter-turner, and that’s what I am.″

At 30, she is the most famous television prop in history. Her autobiography is on the bookstands. She is spokeswoman for a mattress company. She is preparing a video about how to eat sensibly - she once thrived on junk food and was 25 pounds heavier.

She appeared on Bob Hope’s Easter Special on NBC-TV.

″Vanna White Sings 3/8 Vanna Acts 3/8″ proclaimed the press release.

However, her singing of ″Easter Parade″ was limited to a few bars with more experienced vocalists: Lynda Carter, Gloria Loring and Stephanie Kramer. Miss White has taken some singing lessons, and she used to lip-sync the hymns in church back in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., where she was once a cheer leader.

Miss White was interviewed between taping sessions of the game show at NBC. The place was the Burbank’s Smoke House restaurant, where, she reported, she once sought work as a waitress and was turned down.

″I was living across the street in an apartment with no bed, sleeping on the floor,″ she recalled. ″I got a job down the street waiting tables and tending bar at Luigi’s. I worked there for a year and was able to buy a bed.″

Her luck changed after Luigi’s. She got modeling jobs and movie bit parts, then auditioned with 200 aspirants 4 1/2 years ago for ″Wheel of Fortune.″ The show’s owner, Merv Griffin, picked her, she said, ″because I turned the letters better than any of the girls.″

The show - a variation of hangman, a word game children play - quickly ascended to ratings heaven. At first, Vanna watching was a joke: Some viewers tuned in merely to see what sequined wonder she’d wear and just how low her decolletage would go.

Soon, though, someone out there in game show land realized that Miss White’s popularity could be slickly marketed. And faster than Vanna flips those vowels and consonants, she became a star.

Her celebrity recently reached new heights with the revealing photo spread in Playboy and her $5.2-million damage suit against the magazine.

″I did the shooting to pay my rent when I was struggling, sleeping on the floor,″ she said. ″I had too much pride to go to my father and ask him for rent money. Many years later I become a famous person, so the shots surface again. It’s embarrassing.″

And like any other star, she’s had to endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

″For me, the tabloids started heavily about a year ago. They don’t have a heart,″ she said.

Her boyfriend, soap opera actor John Gibson, was killed in a plane crash last May, and the tabloids stayed on the story.

″They don’t let you mourn and grieve,″ Miss White said. ″And they print headlines like ‘Vanna Brings Back Lover From the Grave.’ It’s disgusting.″

However, the endless Vanna White jokes don’t seem to bother her.

″They’re a compliment, I laugh at them myself, and I’m not put down by them at all,″ she said. ″I don’t make fun of my job, but let’s face it: I turn letters on a game show. This is what I do.″