Pat Sajak is famous for hosting Wheel Of Fortune for the last 38 years, but the long-time game show host had a number of different careers before he found his sweet spot on TV. The 74-year-old served in the army and also had a brief career in radio, which no doubt prepared him for crossing over to the small screen. It was his time in the Army, at the Pentagon specifically, that’s probably the most interesting aspect of Sajak’s early career.
Pat Sajak Wasn’t Always A Game Show Host
If you’d have asked Pat Sajak back in 1980, just a year before he took over the helm of Wheel Of Fortune from Chuck Woolery, if he thought he could be a game show host, he might have laughed at you. Though he’s now best known for his work on the long-running game show, Sajak got his start in radio. From there, Sajak enlisted in the Army and was stationed in Vietnam just before the war. After securing a transfer to Saigon, Sajak returned to his radio roots, becoming a self-described, “Good morning Vietnam” guy, like DJ Adrian Cronauer, who was made famous in the Robin Williams film.
After about a year and a half of working the military radio, Sajak was transferred to a base in Texas, though he was quickly able to negotiate yet another transfer, this time to the Pentagon. This is where things get really interesting. His job might not have been elite or high-level, but it did make him privy to some “very high-level secrets.” Sajak told the New York Times that he’d worked several levels below ground at the Department of Defense headquarters and ran the slide projector for generals who were being briefed on the Vietnam War.
Sajak’s Government Job Made Him Privvy To Major Secrets
“It was a very high-clearance job. And I suppose I heard very high-level secrets.” With his trademark charm and flippant humor, Sajak added, “But it seems to me there was more talk about the then-postal strike than anything else. Also, when we flashed up maps of Vietnam, I saw them backwards. It always looked like we were retreating.”
Once he left that job, Sajak began working in news on a variety of topics, which soon caught the eye of Merv Griffin, the creator of Wheel Of Fortune, who was seeking out a replacement for the show’s original host, Chuck Woolery. At the time, the job was a bit of a hard sell to Sajak. “Honestly, I didn’t see myself as a game show host,” he recalled in an interview with NPR, adding, “nothing against it, but if I were to make a list of the 50 things I thought I’d end up doing in broadcasting, you know, game show host would have been 47th, or something.” He remembered telling Griffin, “Look, this is wonderful but I’m not, you know, back then especially, there was sort of a stereotypical idea of a game show host – the guy, smiley, ‘hey, you won $10,000!’ You know.”
Despite his misgivings, Sajak obviously decided to give game show hosting a go, and clearly his decades-long career proves that it was the right decision. Though there have definitely been some stumbles along the way, with some tabloids calling Sajak out for his controversial treatment of certain contestants, it’s been smooth sailing overall for the reluctant, but ultimately successful, game show host.
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