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Vanna ties her fortunes to the Wheel

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Vanna White, who has heard just about every single question ever concocted at least twice, looks genuinely shocked.

This is a new one, it seems.

Dress size, waist size, weight, age, rumors of romance with Pat Sajak, a passel of personal stuff too touchy to mention and most recently what it's like to be the most visible pregnant letter-turner in the free world _ all that she can answer. It's like Hank Aaron hitting home runs in Little League.

But is she leaving Wheel of Fortune?

"Are you kidding?" she asked Monday, looking more horrified than surprised. "Absolutely not!"

With her baby due in June, some have wondered whether White will be back for the fall season. After years of trying to conceive a child with husband George Santo Pietro and a miscarriage made embarrassingly public, some friends have hinted that White might want to stay home and dote on her much beloved baby boy.

White, 37, says she will dote on her son _ wrapping him in one of her famous handmade baby shawls _ but she will be there when the Wheel is spinning.

"I'm not missing any work," she says, as her hair is styled before a taping of Wheel of Fortune at Walt Disney World. "This is not true. Put that in bold type!"

She would be crazy to leave, and she knows it.

White and co-host Pat Sajak work just four days a month, churning out 20 shows at a clip. Once the letters have been turned, White shifts into business high gear with Vanna White Inc. A regular on Home Shopping Network, she visits the Tampa Bay area frequently to sell her own line of clothes and shoes. A recent lawsuit against the Samsung Corp., which used a robotic rip-off of her to sell batteries, disclosed that she makes "millions in product endorsements" each year (add to that an additional $403,000 she collected from Samsung for defaming her character).

Leave Wheel of Fortune? Her shiniest spotlight? The jewel in the crown of Vanna White Inc.? A job that is both easy and fun and a place where she is adored by both the staff and millions of fans?


Okay, maybe it was a dumb question.

When her son is born, White will take a two-month maternity leave before taping resumes in August.

"We're working the show around her," Wheel publicist Suzy Rosenberg said backstage on Monday. During this four-day marathon in Disney-MGM Studio, 20 shows will be taped including a special set devoted to "Superstars of Music."

White seems unfazed by thiswhirl of activity. She reports a "dream pregnancy" without morning sickness or complications. "I haven't had one problem so far," she says triumphantly.

"With all the food she's putting away, she better have a lot of energy!" host Pat Sajak says fondly, as he gets his make-up done later. (No, they never dated.) "She's doing great."

Much better than a trip to Disney World last year, when she presented pal Kathie Lee Gifford with a handmade afghan for her baby, Cassidy. It was a touching moment, coming months after White's miscarriage.

"It was really painful," White says. "I don't know why we have to go through these painful things, but we do. I've wanted a child for a long time."

"It's wonderful to have a keeper," she says, smiling and patting the tiny bulge carefully swathed in a red maternity dress.

One of the few concessions she has made to her "keeper" is a pair of white Keds, which she wears between shows instead of high heels. Before the show, she slips on a pair of Vanna White pumps. "They're really quite comfortable," she adds.

The baby has also caused a wardrobe expansion _ literally.

"I used to be a size 4," White says, back in familiar question territory. "Now I'm more like a 12, soon to be a 14!"

White and producer Nancy Jones made a special effort to keep a pregnant Vanna just as glamorous as the Size-4 Vanna who has walked more than 250 miles turning letters on the puzzle board. Since she signed on 11 years ago, White has worn 5,700 outfits _ most bejeweled and beaded.

These days, White favors Black Tie designs by Oleg Cassini and Mimi Maternity Dresses, and, yes, most are beaded, and most are very short to show off her long legs.

Her hair fluffy and coiffed, rhinestone and onyx earrings in place, Vanna eases off the make-up chair.

Time to turn those letters. We have many puzzles to solve before we sleep.

But hey, Vanna, before you go . . .

Vanna White is not leaving Wheel of Fortune!

Consider that an early baby gift.