Remembering a “fantastic human being” through the Gary Garfinkel Scholarship

“He wanted to help anyone, if he could.”

Ella Garfinkel remembers that when her late son, Gary Garfinkel (Questrom’84), became an executive at Showtime, he particularly enjoyed identifying and promoting new talent—especially emerging stand-up comedians, who often struggle to gain traction in a highly competitive industry. “I think Gary really changed Showtime,” she says. “It was kind of conservative. Gary found Latino comedians, he found Black comedians—there are people who say he really changed their lives.”

Gary Garfinkel (left) with parents Ella and Arnold

Early in his career, Gary applied his BU finance degree (and an MBA from New York University) as a foreign exchange analyst for Salomon Brothers; he then moved on to Columbia Records, where he became interested in entertainment. Following a stint at Sony Pictures Entertainment, he worked for Showtime from 1993 until his death from cancer in 2018, eventually rising to become co-head of content acquisition. Among other comedians, Garfinkel worked closely with Bill Bellamy, Margaret Cho, Pauly Shore, and Jay Mohr.

What I always found so exceptional about him was how much he only wanted to know about you, and how you were doing, even in those final months when he was sick. He wasn’t like a Hollywood guy; there was nothing slick, no artifice. He was genuine in his curiosity about everyone.

Scott Rosenberg (COM’85)

In his memory, and using resources from Gary’s estate, Ella and Arnold Garfinkel have established a scholarship at BU, which will be awarded to COM undergraduates with a preference for students in film, television, or new media. Because it is endowed, the Gary M. Garfinkel Memorial Scholarship Fund qualifies for BU’s Century Challenge, a philanthropic program that means the University will match the annual scholarship award from the fund for 100 years (the scholarship itself will exist in perpetuity).

Ella and Arnold say they decided to create the scholarship because of their longstanding belief in the importance of education, but also because of Gary’s abiding affection for BU. “It was the first time that he was away from home, and he really enjoyed his time,” Ella says. “He loved Boston, he loved his friends.”

One of those friends, Scott Rosenberg (COM’85), a Los Angeles–based screenwriter and producer who met Gary at BU and remained close to him until his death, said that Gary set a remarkable example for anyone aiming to succeed in show business—and in life. “What I always found so exceptional about him was how much he only wanted to know about you, and how you were doing, even in those final months when he was sick,” he says. “He wasn’t like a Hollywood guy; there was nothing slick, no artifice. He was genuine in his curiosity about everyone.

“In our business, it’s all about ‘me, me, me.’ Gary brought class to a sometimes classless place, and he did it with sensitivity, curiosity, and caring. Anyone who is fortunate enough to receive this scholarship should know that it is a privilege and an honor, but also that there’s a great responsibility: to come to your work with elegance, pride, and love.”

What do Ella and Arnold Garfinkel want the students who hold Gary’s memorial scholarship to know? “Gary took opportunities, he took chances,” Ella says. In addition to his success as an entertainment executive, Gary was a prolific traveler who enjoyed bringing mementos and souvenirs back for his parents, who live in Las Vegas.

“When a door opened, he went in, he enjoyed it, and then he looked for another door,” Ella says. “He was just a fantastic human being.”

Many of Gary Garfinkel’s friends shared remembrances and tributes. If you would like to share a story of your own about Gary, please email us. If you would like to make a gift to his scholarship fund, please contact Andrew Horgan.

Gary was able to make friends wherever he went, in any social circle. He greeted you with a sincere warmth and happiness each time he saw you. He found one special thing about you and reminded you of it every so often. It was his secret for success. And I don’t mean success as in climbing the corporate ladder, which he did so adeptly. I mean success in that he surrounded himself with a whole lot of love all throughout his life. He perfected the art of “What you give…is what you get.”

Wayne Steinberg

My friend Gary Garfinkel was not only a great friend of mine. He also loved comedy, which is where I met him over 20 years ago when I licensed some of my specials and documentaries to him when he ran the Showtime comedy department. Immediately, a very close friendship was built. Not only did we always do business together. We always went to dinners, hung out at his house, he hung out at my house, but the main thing is wherever we went, we never stopped laughing.

Gary loved film and comedy and the entertainment business. He was old school and new school combined. There will never be another Gary Garfinkel. He was awesome!

Pauly Shore

Gary Garfinkel had a light and joy within him that shined so bright you couldn’t help but smile when you were around him! Gary cared deeply about discovering new talent and giving them a spotlight. Walking with Gary into the famed Comedy Store, in Los Angeles, was like walking in with a rock star! Everyone knew Gary and every comedian knew that he could change their life, as he had done for so many already. Whether the comedian had flopped or soared, Gary was always so kind to everyone, offering advice and guidance.

He was a rarity in Hollywood. Not many people in his position would take the time to genuinely connect with talent like he did. He loved his job, and he loved helping people succeed. I think Gary would be so happy to know that his legacy will help students at BU. He loved his time there, and I know that he is smiling down on all of you there.

Leslie Durso

Gary was the most intelligent, thoughtful, and caring man. He found humor even in his darkest moments of fighting brain cancer. He lived life to the fullest and touched so many lives while he was here. He left no stone unturned. He truly was an amazing person and friend. He saw me at my best…he saw me at my worst…but, he always saw me. And that takes a special person.

We all have friends that take us to the next chapter of our lives, seasonal friends, friends who disappoint us, friends we outgrow…or, for no rhyme or reason, we just get busy. Gary was never too busy. He was my friend of great substance. Those friends aren’t so easy to come by. I am blessed to have known him. He will be forever missed!

Lorianne T. Mantai

Through all Gary’s success in business, and in life, he remained loyal, humble, and caring, always putting others before himself. Your success was his success. He loved his friends, and he especially loved his parents, Ella and Arnold. They meant everything to him.

Gary had this presence that immediately put you at ease as soon as he walked into the room. He befriended anyone and everyone. He was just an amazing human being.

Our 40-year high school reunion was to take place August 15, 2020. Unfortunately it was postponed until next year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although he was shy during his Cinnaminson, New Jersey, high school years, Gary’s charismatic personality came to life at our high school reunions. Gary never missed a reunion over the course of 35 years—he would work the room like no one else. He would make sure he talked to everyone before the night was over. He would show pictures of celebrities that he worked with on movies or comedy specials. Everyone got a kick out of that. By the end of the night, Gary would have every classmate’s phone number and Facebook contact.

Gary stayed in touch with everyone, which meant a lot to so many people. He kept our class together, and every five years everyone looked forward to spending time with him and catching up on life with old friends.

John Antonucci

Gary was gentle, articulate, and a wonderful friend and patient. He loved people and helping advance their career. We talked a lot about mentoring and the need to always pay it forward. He would absolutely want any recipient of a scholarship in his name to remember that—and to always want to help others who follow in their footsteps. He believed this would make for a better world, and of course he was right.

Henry Friedman, MD

Though Gary Garfinkel loved cinema and had many Criterion Collection Blu-rays in his beloved collection—though most were unwatched and there only to impress his dates—it was a certain kind of classic that excited him: works with names like National Lampoon’s Animal House, Caddyshack, and Slap Shot, as well as the early, funny films of Woody Allen. For Gary, a true masterpiece of cinema was one that could make him laugh at the end of a long day.

Larry Greenberg