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Vanna Finds New Niche as ‘Goddess of Love’

Vanna White has developed her own little niche in Hollywood. But this Queen of Game Shows, the woman who made her name by smiling, clapping and turning letters on “Wheel of Fortune,” is reaching for something more.

She wants to be an actress. NBC has obliged her with a script--"The Goddess of Love"--and a time slot--Sunday at 9 p.m., opposite a middle episode of ABC’s mammoth series “War and Remembrance.”

At a press conference a few months ago, NBC programming chief Brandon Tartikoff compared the two projects by saying “War and Remembrance” was a big book and “The Goddess of Love” was a little book with “the biggest print we have.” White’s response is a graceful non-response: “The network is putting so much behind this movie. I’m very flattered, but it’s very scary. My butt is on the line. This could make or break me.”

Rather than viewing “Goddess of Love” as a risk, however, she sees it as “something I have to do. It’s time for me to take the step. How else will I get the chance to be an actress?”

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The two-hour movie is a light comedy about a statue of Venus that comes to life.

“Venus’ father turns her to stone because three of her husbands have died strange deaths,” White explains. “Three thousand years pass, and she’s in this museum. But when she finds out what true love really is, she comes to life.”

White adores the movie. Sitting in her NBC dressing room prior to performing her chores on the day’s quota of “Wheel of Fortune” episodes, she says: “I’d compare it to ‘Splash’ or ‘Bewitched’ or ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’ I hope people aren’t expecting Shakespeare.”

White speaks with great sincerity. There doesn’t appear to be an ironic bone in her body. She answers her own fan mail, which is considerable, and casually mentions that she does her own laundry. But can she act?

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“Do you want the honest truth?” asks “Goddess” director Jim Drake. “Yes, Vanna can act. I think she has the potential to become another Judy Holliday.”

Drake, who is directing John Candy and the Smothers Brothers in the feature comedy “East to West,” points out that “networks try to capitalize on their stars. The producers were concerned that using Vanna would turn the movie into a stunt. But when they saw some of the work we did and the first dailies, they were pleased. This is not the Maria Montez B-movie, so bad that you have to watch it.”

Still, White is awaiting the critics with some trepidation.

“I know I’ll get murdered by someone,” she says. “There’s nothing I can do. People have said such stupid things about me--like ‘bimbo of the year.’ I can’t be that stupid. Here I am. I’ve done OK for myself.

“Look. I’m a perfect target. People don’t know a thing about me. They say, ‘This girl doesn’t have a brain. All she does is turn letters.’ I get paid to make people happy. I’m not a brain surgeon, but I turned what I have into the lead in this movie.”

It’s been a slow process, but White, 31, may have the last laugh. She has wanted to be “a famous movie star” since her school days in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. “Susan Dey was my role model on ‘The Partridge Family,’ ” she remembers. “I wanted to grow up and be her.

“My uncle, Christopher George from ‘Rat Patrol,’ gave me some pointers when I moved to Los Angeles. He told me I had to lose weight.”

White stopped eating a dozen doughnuts a day, began attending acting classes and, in 1982, won her slot on “Wheel of Fortune.” She recently extended her “Wheel” contract to 1992.

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If “The Goddess of Love” gets good ratings, White would be willing to take it to series, she says, “if it doesn’t interfere with ‘Wheel.’ I want to work more and learn this whole business. I really enjoy Woody Allen. To do a movie with him would be terrific. I’d love to get an Academy Award someday.”

Hefty goals. But White firmly believes, “there’s always a chance anything can happen. I won’t take no for an answer. I’ve been really lucky, but through it all I’ve been honest.


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