‘Wheel of Fortune’: Vanna White Once Took Playboy and Hugh Hefner to Court

Wheel of Fortune has been an American institution for years. It’s one of the most recognizable game shows in the country. In fact, it’s been running so long and so consistently that its host, Pat Sajak, has broken a Guinness world record for longest-running games show host. His co-host, Vanna White, is also an iconic part of the show, and was a regular visitor to plenty of American television sets. So perhaps that might explain why, when Vanna White was featured in Playboy magazine, fans were shocked. And no one was more upset than Vanna White herself. 

Vanna White was a household name 

Pat Sajak, Vanna White, and Alex Trebek
Pat Sajak, Vanna White, and Alex Trebek | David Livingston/Getty Images

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Whether you loved her or hated her, Vanna White rapidly became a household name due to her work on Wheel of Fortune. She was iconic in her various gowns and dresses, with which Pat Sajak always tried to match his tie — to varying degrees of success. 

In fact, Vanna gained what Washington Post referred to as ‘first-name-recognition,’ so ubiquitous was she in the game show world. And as with anyone who gains rapid fame, especially if they’re a woman, folks had plenty to say — positive and negative. 

In 1987 the Miami Herald put an article to press entitled, “How Much Vanna can we Stanna?” 

The author asked, “What if Barbie came to life, changed her name to Vanna White and found a job turning letters on the most successful game show in television history?”

“I’ve dealt with criticism by making fun of my job. It is what it is. I’ll be the first to make fun of it. It’s funny,” admitted Vanna White. 

However, nobody can deny that White has become a mainstay. Folks of all ages and backgrounds in the United States have watched her for decades — many basically grew up with White on their television screen only for the same to continue into adulthood. 

She never expected to appear on Playboy

Vanna White of Wheel of Fortune
Vanna White of Wheel of Fortune | David Becker/Getty Images

Perhaps this consistency and its household nature led to fans being shocked when Vanna White appeared in Playboy magazine. However, White herself was equally shocked — she had not expected her photos to appear. 

“Here’s the thing. When I first moved to Hollywood, I was too embarrassed to ask my dad for rent money,” explained White to E!. 

“I was young and I wanted to do it on my own. So, I did these lingerie shots and from the moment I said I would do them, I thought, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this, but I’m not going to ask my dad for money, so I’m just going to do it!’” she explained.

“Once I got Wheel of Fortune and some fame, Hugh Hefner then bought those pictures. He’s the one who put me on the cover of the magazine,” she revealed. “I didn’t do it for Playboy. I did not want them on there, but it happened.”

‘Wheel of Fortune’ star took Playboy to court

Vanna White and Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune
Vanna White and Pat Sajak of Wheel of Fortune | Michael Tran/FilmMagic

The reaction to Vanna White appearing in Playboy was severe, and she felt compelled to appear on Johnny Carson to make an apology. 

“I was very thankful that I had such support behind me. I remember going on [The Tonight Show With] Johnny Carson and saying, ‘I’m so sorry, this is what happened.’ And this is a lesson that applies today: Never do anything that you don’t want to do,” she said. 

She revealed that she was friends with Hugh Hefner and asked him not to run the photos, but he did anyway. White filed a $5.2 million lawsuit against Playboy, and also sued Hefner in federal court. 

White later dropped the lawsuits. She explained that, “Playboy’s promotion efforts … have led the public to believe the photographs are more revealing and provocative than they actually are.”

As a result, she suggested, “Non-publication of the photographs under these circumstances may very well be more damaging to me and my career than the injury which I will undoubtedly suffer from publication.”