“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend …”

– Carol Channing from the Broadway stage version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Gold is a girl’s best friend …”

– Julie Murray, Manager of BJ’s Pawn Shops

It may be the most oxymoronic visual transition in all of television:

Jack McCoy, the Ivy League-coiffed Assistant District Attorney of Manhattan, is eloquently pleading his case, citing one stinging legal precedent after another on “Law and Order,” that interminable TV cop-courtroom drama. Then in a flash – Zing! – commercial time and there she is: Julie Murray, the pawn shop maven of Louisiana, all done up in a red hairdo reminiscent of the doo wop days of “da 9th Wawd.” Murray’s face fills the screen as she flashes a Pepsodent smile and warns, “Send your gold through the  mail to some outfit out of town? I don’t think so! Bring your gold to BJ’s.” You sit there waiting to hear an off-screen chorus of the word “dawlin.’”

Julie Murray prides herself in growing up, “On the corner of Port ‘n Almonaster. That’s the heart of the Ninth Ward, babe.”

“Julie’s real New Orleans, if ya know what I mean,” says “Paulie the Stooper” (somebody who earns his epithet by picking up discarded mutuel tickets at the Fair Grounds in the hopes of finding a winner) admits that between his bad investments at the race track and his alimony, he often must resort to “moving my gold around, if you know what I mean?”

In addition to guys like Paulie, Murray has built up a legion of followers in the 15 years she’s been managing the BJ’s pawn shop operations: people who find themselves suddenly unemployed or chasers of the American Dream, whose investments have gone south. These are the everyday folks who need an extra few bucks to cover an emergency or to tide them over until the next check arrives in the mail.

“My customers come from every corner of life,” Murray says. “I get people who have a tough time from month to month, you know, they’re on Social Security or a small pension. But it’s wide ranging. In the past when this thing [recession] first hit, we did mostly a blue-collar business. But these days all that’s changed. Now it’s not only blue-collar, but white-collar also. These days I’m doing a lot of diamonds and Rolex watches. Although back in 2008 I must have set some kind of record: From October to December 1, I sold 54 Rolex watches. That’s got to be a record, don’t you think? That’s pretty much an all year round thing these days, not just at Christmas anymore. Hey, it’s like the old saying goes, ‘the older the boy, the more expensive the toys.’ Some of these men collect a lot of those expensive toys and they find it’s also expensive to maintain them. When the economy’s bad, they have to get rid of one of them expensive toys to maintain the other ones.”

Very few people, blue-collar or white, walk into a BJ’s store who don’t ask for Julie Murray by name, or who would opt for a quick transaction rather than stand in line for their pleasure of speaking to her personally.

“I’ve gotten to be friends with so many of my customers,” she says. “They come in and they tell me about their mamas or what their son did. You know, personal stuff. This is almost like family. But I guess what it all comes down to is that I love these people and I love what I do. I’ve never done anything else. It’s like I was made for this!”

It would certainly seem that way.

Some 30 years ago, Murray’s mother and a former co-worker at Gordon’s Jewelers – Bill Johnson, the “BJ” in today’s BJ’s Pawn Shops – put their heads together and landed a job for teenage Murray gift wrapping Christmas packages at Reiner’s Jewelers on Canal and Rampart Streets. After two days of wrapping, she was called up to the front of the store to help out at the register during a rush of customers. “It ain’t brain surgery,” the manager told Murray. “Everything has a price tag on it.” Within 25 minutes, Julie Murray, the rookie sales clerk, had racked up $1,200 in sales and never had to tie a bow on a package again.

“It’s all about personality,” she says. “People come in because of the store. They come in because of you. If they like you; if you play fair and straight with them; if you take an interest, the customer will know it. They buy because of you. I’m like that. I’m just enthusiastic and bubbly all the time. I got a party going on inside me 24/7. On the other hand,” she continues, “you go into a restaurant and the waiter comes over with a frown on his face and says, ‘How are you …’ First thing you know, he starts sneezing and complaining about how he has a cold and he couldn’t get no sleep last night. Man, hit the road! You know you’re not going back to that place.”

Murray maintains that adrenaline roll these days, and for good reason.

She recently returned from her twice-a-year skiing trip to Lake Tahoe and has done it with nary a scratch, although, “This gal did clip me. Ran over me like a lawn mower. Knocked me on my ass … I was covered with snow, but nothing broken.”

She has just listened intently to a sob story from some poor guy who’s leaving BJ’s to head down to the unemployment office. And she was happy to be able to ease his financial pain somewhat.

The latest quote on gold that day was $1,103 an ounce, and was expected to do nothing but increase in value.
Her  family hasn’t missed the fact that her face is constantly on the screen doing BJ’s commercials and ride her to push more national recognition.

“Do some national television or some movie stuff, my mama is always telling me,“ she says.

“I tell them, ‘In my next life, I’m going to give Eva Longoria a run for her money!’”

What she doesn’t say is that scouts from “Pawn Star,” a television series offering by the History Channel have interviewed her and have her on a short list to star in a future episode.

“See what I mean,” Paulie the Stooper says. “Everybody loves this chick!”

Even Jack McCoy would agree with that.