‘Wheel of Fortune’s’ co-host tells Moneyish on International Women’s Day how trusting her gut has kept her on the game show for 35 years.
As part of a series to mark International Women’s Day, Moneyish asked some prominent people to share their thoughts and experiences regarding issues important to females. Read more here.
It took me years and years and years to trust myself. I just turned 61, and I get it now. But that took me a long time.
I learned this from an incident that happened in my early 20s, when I first came to Hollywood. I got a job, and I got my own apartment, but I was too embarrassed to ask my dad for rent money. I wanted to prove that I could make it on my own, so I took these lingerie shots to pay my rent. And while I was doing that shoot, I said to myself, “I should not be doing this. This is not right. This is not me.”
And I should have listened to that little voice. Many years later, when I became famous, Hugh Hefner bought those lingerie shots and ran them in Playboy. It could have destroyed my career. Fortunately, it didn’t, and from that moment on, when I feel strongly about something, I listen to that little voice. It is my truth. You have to listen to that voice inside you, and if you feel like a situation is wrong: Don’t do it!
I grew up in the south, in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. My mother instilled good morals in me, and I live by them. Oftentimes in Hollywood it is very hard to do. One of the main lessons she taught me was to be kind to everyone, and it’s something I’ve tried to pass on to my children. We’re all the same, no matter your skin color, size, sexual orientation or gender identity. We’re all human, and we should treat each other as such. I live that lesson by trying to pay another person a kindness every single day. It can be as simple as signing an autograph or letting someone cut into my lane of traffic, but it is part of my daily routine. The little things count.
I’ve been on “Wheel of Fortune” for 35 years, and I absolutely love my job. I don’t really talk all that much on the show, so the best thing I can do with my position is be a good role model and lead by example. I want to be kind and humble, but also the best that I can be. I remember meeting some celebrities before I started on “Wheel of Fortune” and it wasn’t always a good experience. Those experiences made me never want someone to come away from meeting me feeling I disrespected them in any way.
It’s important to be grounded, and to remember where you came from. I go on an annual girls’ trip with the women I grew up with, who I’ve known for 60 years. One is a nurse, one is a lawyer, one is a housewife, and no one knows us better than we know each other. Those are true, true friends, and you can’t buy that. Most of the time, we go back to our hometown. We go to the ice cream shop that we went to 50 years ago, or to the restaurants that are still there. It really is like going back in time, and going back to our roots.
I have worn 6,700 gowns on “Wheel,” but I am not a glamorous person at home. I’m usually in flats, jeans and no makeup. I often shop at Target, too. And I’ll be the first person to make fun of my job. I’m a letter toucher! They pay me to touch letters! Privately, I’m also a businesswoman. I’ve used my income to invest in some apartment buildings, and I like flipping houses. I also have my own line of yarn, and in keeping with my mission to give back, I donate half of my proceeds — currently I have donated $1.8 million and growing — to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
After I retire, I will probably do something philanthropic. But I have two more years on my current contract with “Wheel,” and I’m not planning to go anywhere soon. If I could do it forever, I would, because I do love my job.
Vanna White is the co-host of “Wheel of Fortune.” To watch in your area, check your local listings.
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