Dynamo Of The Diamonique Set Kathy Levine Just Loves The Simulated Diamonds, And So Do Her Qvc Viewers. Annually, They Buy $150 Million Of What She's Selling.

Posted: May 04, 1995

The Diva of Diamonique is selling, selling, selling.

"Is this going to be your first Diamonique?" Kathy asks Kathleen from New York state, who's live on the air.

"Yes, it is," the woman says proudly. She has just purchased a 14-karat gold ring with a one-carat solitaire simulated diamond made especially for QVC, the cable-TV shopping network, based in West Chester, that did $1.4 billion in sales last year.

"Great," Kathy says, speaking at Corvette speed. "There's no point in having anything that's really very expensive when you still get the look of all this beauty." The camera zooms in on her ring finger, adorned in shimmering Diamonique. "You know how much I love it. I just deck myself out in it."

This is chatty Kathy at her wacky best - Kathy Levine, that is, to the unacquainted.

She is a QVC original, one of its top hosts at $150 million in sales annually, according to insiders, and its most popular, judging by her stacks of adoring fan mail. "Kathy, you are so lovely," writes one fan. "Your warmth, sincerity and charm came over the TV waves more powerfully than you know."

Now Kathy's selling a nine-row channel-set ruby dome ring, only $221. And chatting, totally unscripted, about her mother in Florida or her miniature schnauzer, Chelsea, both occasional guests. Now she's selling tsavorite. ''Tsavorite is actually a green garnet . . . discovered in Zimbabwe in 1961," says Kathy, revving her turbo engines. "I got that information from the library. . . . $364.50." Now she's selling a pearl ring. And chatting about her tastes in jewelry or bemoaning her weight and bad hair. Now she's selling. . . .

"I just love you all dearly," coos Ollie from North Carolina, who just bought a ring.

These days, lots of folks love Kathy, who at a graceful 43 isn't selling just jewelry but the delightfully ordinary details of her middle-aged self to America.

"It's nice to see someone age along with you," fan Jane Gallen, 38, an executive secretary from Drexel Hill, says in an interview. "It's almost like a friend - in some goofy way."

Her fans, and that includes her boss and co-workers, say the appeal of Kathy - whom everyone calls by her first name - is an indescribable something that includes a certain warmth, sincerity and wit.

"Kathy has a ton of that something," senior program host Bob Bowersox says. "Kathy is one of the most natural people. She is exactly as you see her on the air."

"She's like E.F. Hutton: When Kathy talks, people listen," seconds her boss, Jack Comstock, vice president for TV sales, who oversees the 18 hosts. ''She has an uncanny ability to connect with viewers."

In the fall, Kathy, with writer Jane Scovell, will capitalize on her appeal and tell her average-girl-makes-good story in an autobiography titled It's Better to Laugh . . . Life, Good Luck, Bad Hair Days, and QVC (Pocket Books), complete with an intro by frequent - and frequently outrageous - Kathy guest Joan Rivers. Kathy says, unabashedly, that she did it mostly for the money, which she won't specify other than to say it allows for a nest egg. Then she adds she also hopes the book will make a "slight difference" in someone's life.

The book contract is her diamond in a showcase of gems.

Kathy has won awards: last year, NIMA International, an infomercial trade group, named her best TV-shopping presenter, and last month, trade publication Response TV named her one of the selling industry's 25 most influential people. She has made headlines in the Wall Street Journal and the National Enquirer, which complimented her in its own outlandish way with a piece that screamed, "She was overweight, couldn't get a date & bounced from job to job - but now . . . she's America's $150 million sweetheart."

And soon, Kathy, promoted by Pocket Books as "everyone's TV girlfriend," will hit the big time with what she calls her tell-all-but-still-nice book.

"I'm being treated with true celebrity status," she says, infectiously earnest. Like a child on her way to Disneyland, she breathlessly anticipates more publicity, the 10-city author tour, the life-size cardboard cutouts of herself.

"This is a hoot," she says, flashing a 10-carat solitaire smile.

*

A scarf with red, yellow and green stripes covers Kathy's head. Barrel-size curlers - blue, purple, green - jut out at the edges.

She arrives at work like this, passing out her trademark hugs and kisses to admiring product vendors, totally comfortable in curlers and no makeup.

Some media types have called her frumpy - but she isn't.

She simply looks like a real person - a pretty reddish brunette (at the moment) but not gorgeous; nice but not gumdrop sweet; a size 12 with hopes of a 10 but never a perfect 8; a star but not a marquee star.

She is Kathy, mostly vanilla ice cream with a few sprinkles on top.

"America looks at me and says, 'This lady looks OK. I'm OK,' " she says, fixing her hair. "I finally have a niche. I'm everything I want to be. . . . I never thought I could do anything big."

Before Kathy, QVC star, there was plain Kathy Levine (pronounced le-VIN), the youngest of three children from average Allentown.

Her father was a periodontist, her mother a fashion coordinator. Her grandfather owned a department store in Northampton. "When I was a little girl, I worked in the candy department," she says. Kathy was an average student, much to her father's dismay. "He'd say, 'Your grades aren't good enough.' Or, 'You'll never make majorettes. You're too fat.' "

She says she believed her father.

"You begin to think of yourself as the most average girl in America," she says, her champagne personality flat for a second. (She says her mother has chided her for telling such details, but that's Kathy.) She isn't angry at her father. "I'm a real good daughter. He's my best beau," she says fondly.

For a long while, Kathy was average, her star out of reach.

Soon after graduating with a degree in Spanish in 1973 from C.W. Post

College on Long Island, Kathy taught Spanish at a Long Island public high school, but chafed under union rules. "I was too free-spirited," she says. She was asked to leave after a year.

Later, she tried to sell real estate.

"I simply goofed off," she says, swabbing makeup along her forehead an hour before the Jewelry Showcase segment. ". . . Honest to goodness, I used to say to my mother, 'I don't think I will ever find my niche. I don't think I will ever, ever get it right.'

"And my mother was really supportive. She said every job has a point."

Mother, apparently, knew best.

In 1984, Kathy landed a job at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel in corporate sales and catering. She liked that job (unlike real estate, she says, "I could influence the sale"), but she wasn't "on center."

In 1986, a girlfriend told her about a new company, looking for hires.

"She told me it's for some place called QBC. That's what I heard. I said, 'Oh, I could never work for a TV station.' She said, 'Stop telling me what you can't do.' . . . So I wrote them a letter, by hand - I didn't even type it, I had no class - to Q B C," says a chagrined Kathy.

QVC called. "I thought they must be dumber than I am," she says, irreverent as ever.

QVC was hiring operators; Kathy, showing her now-signature chutzpah, asked for a host audition.

"I sold a pencil," she says, slipping into the pitch. "Pencils are marvelous tools because pencils always make you smart. Nobody knows you've made a mistake because you can erase it. . . . If you get really upset, you can break a pencil in half and share it with a friend, which makes you very resourceful.

"There was this silence," she says. "I would never sell a pencil straight. That's what they're looking for. They're looking for the person who understands sizzle.

"I understand sizzle better than anybody."

The rest is QVC history.

Kathy, wearing a two-piece leisure suit with an animal print (only $49.98), is blowing on her just manicured, soft-pink nails.

"Who is he?" she asks, clasping the football helmet of a bronze statue, an item she will pitch in, oh, about 10 minutes, during one of her usual late afternoon and evening segments.

Someone calls out, "Joe Montana."

"What position did Joe Montana play? Who did he play for?"

Kathy makes no notes, committing the details to memory.

Once on air, she will sell Montana as if she were his No. 1 fan. Standing near a faux fireplace, she will talk to a bank of robotic cameras, her only audience a couple of producers and four rows of telephone operators in a surprisingly noisy warehouse-size studio. "If you happen to be from San Francisco, if you happen to be from Kansas City, this is a great gift, a great Father's Day gift."

And viewers will buy it - shelling out $299 for the statue within seconds.

Her gift for gab, she says, earns her near the high end of hosts' salaries - about $100,000, according to QVC insiders. Kathy is single. She was married for nine years to a West Chester businessman, but the two split in 1986: "He wanted to be a daddy, and I wanted to be a star."

Now, Kathy is looking over products, including a toy called Doodle Top Fun Set, for Fun & Leisure hour, blowing on her nails, talking to a reporter about her future - maybe a sitcom, maybe her own sales show - and loving all the attention.

"I'm having a ball," she says. "I was afraid to even dream when I was a little girl. For a long time, I was a wannabe. Everything was average.

"I've finally broken away from average," she says, walking into the spotlight to sell Doodle Tops.

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