By People Staff
December 22, 1986 12:00 PM

At one point during the interview, Vanna White looks down at the table and starts staring at the tape recorder, watching pensively as its reels slowly turn around and around. “What do you think when you listen to this back?” she asks. “Is the whole thing weird?”

In your case, Vanna, not very. Some people may wonder how a 29-year-old (or so) woman who does nothing but turn the (already lit) letters on TV’s Wheel of Fortune could come to enjoy the slightest fame. That’s how much they know. Vanna White is part of a time-honored American tradition that has yielded such worthies as Julie New mar, Tiny Tim and Rula Lenska: She is the latest in the line of Lite Celebrities.

This is not an inconsiderable achievement; such status comes with some fab-u-lous prizes. For starters there’s her annual Wheel salary—an estimated $100,000-plus for 12 days of work a month. Then there are endorsements for McDonald’s and the soon-to-be-available Vanna White mattress. And don’t forget the obligatory book—Vanna Speaks, due in mid ’87—which she calls “partly autobiography, diet, exercise, my views on life. All different kinds of things because I don’t get the opportunity to talk a lot on the show.” The future might also bring a record album and a cookie line, but probably not a movie. “It’s hard to go from a TV star to a serious motion picture star,” Vanna admits. “I’m not quite sure what exactly it is I want to do. Something in front of the camera.”

Such modesty not only becomes her, it also indicates why she is special to 1986. This was a cautious, self-restrained year in which economists spoke of negative growth and sportscasters constantly praised athletes for “staying within themselves” or “playing within their limits.” Vanna certainly fits that bill. When the interview is over and she is standing, she suddenly and excitedly asks, “Do you want to see how fast I can untie and retie my laces?” She then bends down to her expensive beige suede boots and accomplishes the feat in 10 seconds flat. In the evanescent world of celebrity, Vanna was this year’s MVP.