TMZ’s Harvey Levin talks about being gay in the news business: “I was so terrified that somebody would find out.”
Harvey Levin is usually busy breaking news about other people.
But the managing editor of TMZ.com and executive producer and host of TMZ on TV got personal this week while hosting a fundraising event in West Hollywood for the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
“I really wanted to do this and I’m really pleased and honored that you guys asked me to come here,” he told the crowd.
I’m a longtime NLGJA member and arrived at the East-West Lounge Wednesday night early with the hopes of snagging an interview with Harvey about being gay in the news business and how that has affected his life and career. He said his employer Warner Bros. isn’t keen on his doing such things without clearance. (But we did snap a photo together, see below)
I was disappointed at not getting an interview but then pleased when Harvey touched on many of the topics I’d wanted to discuss in his remarks to the crowd.
“I’m thinking back a long time when I was starting out as a TV reporter at a local station in LA and I remember at the time – I was probably in my late 20s – and I remember this hell-like fear that if anybody in that newsroom found out that that I was gay, that it would be over,” he said. “I built it up in my head. I was so terrified that somebody would find out.”
Now 59, Harvey remembers a time when he desperately tried to keep his lives separate: “I compartmentalized my life. Obviously friends knew I was gay but professionally I had to shut it out. And I believe, at the time, there was good cause for thinking I’d get fired. It got to a point where I was agoraphobic. My biggest joy was just never having to leave my house.”
He remembers that when he was out with friends and if they were in a gay establishment, he used his ability to scan a room “in three seconds” to find out if there was anyone he knew there.
“I’d would immediately look for someone who worked sat the station,” Harvey said. “I remember walking into this restaurant that was primarily a gay restaurant and I ran into this woman who worked at the station and I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s over.” … I was so upset that I left.”
“It got to a breaking point with me where I just finally said, ‘This isn’t worth it.” And I just let it go. And nothing happened.”
Harvey went on to work steadily in television and in the entertainment business. He was legal reporter for KCBS in Los Angeles, legal consultant and later host for two incarnations of The People’s Court and prior to TMZ, was creator and executive producer of the show Celebrity Justice.
“I think a lot of people build it up in their heads and they need people to see that it’s not a big deal,” he said of his sexuality. “I think it’s important for people to see that you can survive and thrive and do well and prosper and there are no recriminations for the most part – although there are in some cases.”
“Still acknowledging that there are prejudices, that fact that what people build up in their heads is often way more than the reality than what it is,” he added. “Even if the reality isn’t freedom from that kind of discrimination, the feeling that ‘Who cares?’ and that you can push it and challenge it is also really important.”