SHE CAN'T SEE HER CUSTOMER FACE-TO-face, but make no mistake, Kathy Levine knows to whom she sells. "She has her hair in curlers, a coffee cup in her hand, her feet on the table and little fluffy slippers on," says Levine, 40. "And I say to her, 'Isn't this a pretty candlestick holder?' and she says, 'Well, no, not really.' " But buyer beware: Chances are, by the time Kathy gets through with her, the lady in curlers will be the proud owner of the candlestick—and probably a gemstone bracelet and a dog leash too. "If we've got it," boasts Levine, a founding host on cable home-shopping channel QVC, "I can sell it."
On-air four nights a week (9 P.M. to midnight ET) hawking her wares to an audience of more than 40 million, the West Chester, Pa.—based Levine is a favorite both with celeb sellers (Joan Rivers has peddled more than $10 million worth of her own line of costume jewelry through Levine) and video shoppers. They have helped turn QVC—with annual sales topping $900 million—into what Inc. magazine calls the fastest-growing small public company in America.
Ironically, a friend (who spotted QVC's newspaper want ad for on-air hosts) had to push Levine, a former sales coordinator at Philadelphia's Franklin Plaza Hotel, into auditioning in 1986. "I thought they were looking for a new Vanna White, and that's not me," she says. "I'm no Twinkie. I'm not little, I'm not cute."
Those factors are pluses with viewers, who send Kathy 200 letters a week. "Some say, 'I love your new hairdo,' " reports Levine. "Others say, 'I hate your new hairdo.' But unanimously, they love my nails. I'm the champion of the middle-aged, not-so-beautiful woman."
The daughter of an Allentown, Pa., periodontist and his fashion-coordinator wife, Levine says that while growing up "all I wanted to do was shop and wear beautiful jewelry." In 1975 she married a broker of animal skins, but 10 years later, with no children, the couple divorced. Explains Levine, who now lives in a contemporary town house in West Chester with her miniature schnauzer, Chelsea: "He wanted to be a dad, and I wanted to be a star."
Peddling cookware on cable TV is not, concedes Levine, what she had in mind—but she'll take it. "My belief is that life's short and death's long, so get on with it," she says. Thus her sales pitch: "For many women that knight with the shining armor just ain't coming. So I say, 'Buy the ring. Buy it for you.' "
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