On this day in 1946, Patrick Leonard Sajdak, who will one day be known to millions of game-show fans as the Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak, is born in Chicago. Wheel of Fortune, which debuted in 1975, became the longest-running syndicated game show on American television, turning Sajak and his co-host, Vanna White, into pop-culture icons.
After attending Chicago’s Columbia College, Sajak joined the Army in 1968 and went to Vietnam, where he was a disc jockey for Armed Forces Radio in Saigon. After his discharge from the military, he worked in radio and TV and in 1977 became a weatherman for a Los Angeles TV station. In 1981, Wheel of Fortune’s creator, Merv Griffin (who also developed the long-running game show Jeopardy!, which debuted in 1964) tapped Sajak to take over hosting duties from Chuck Woolery for a network daytime version of Wheel. In 1983, Wheel of Fortune became a syndicated evening program. It has remained on the air continuously since that time, with Sajak and White as co-hosts.
During each episode of Wheel of Fortune, contestants compete to solve word puzzles. Players spin the big wheel to determine prize money and each player can buy vowels to help solve the puzzle. White stands next to the puzzleboard and reveals the individual letters when players have guessed them correctly. Born Vanna Marie Rosich on February 18, 1957, White was raised in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. She attended the Atlanta School of Fashion Design and worked as a model before heading to Los Angeles to pursue acting. In 1982, the blonde beauty was selected to join Sajak on Wheel of Fortune. The first letter she ever turned on the puzzleboard was a “T.” In 1992, the Guinness Book of World Records named White “Television’s Most Frequent Clapper,” crediting her with an average of 720 claps per show.
Each year, more than 3,000 people audition to become contestants on Wheel of Fortune, while fewer than 500 make the final cut. During its 25 years of syndication, Wheel of Fortune has given over $180 million in cash and prizes to its contestants.
As for longevity, while Jeopardy! debuted in 1964, it has not aired continuously since then. Jeopardy! first aired from 1964 to 1975, then went off the air. It returned briefly, from 1978 to 1979, and was revived again in 1984, when Alex Trebek became host of a syndicated edition of the show. The longest-running game show in network or syndication is The Price is Right. The show originally aired on network TV from 1956 to 1965. A syndicated version of The Price is Right premiered in 1972, with Bob Barker as host. Barker remained with the show until his retirement at the age of 83 in 2007. Comedian Drew Carrey took over hosting duties beginning in October 2007.