Most agents these days are “pretty corporate,” said Ms. Jong, who was standing nearby. Not Mr. Victor, whom the author turned to in the late ’80s. He never asked her to write an outline, as other agents had, she said, and the two sometimes did business while lounging in a hot tub.
Much like the Hollywood legends Swifty Lazar and Sue Mengers, who were as colorful as their clients, Mr. Victor was almost as well known for his persona, with the lustrous beard and jaunty scarf, as his star-studded roster. As someone who attended high school in Bayside, Queens, before going on to study literature at Cambridge University, he made his own myth a reality.
Mr. Brooks noted the double-breasted suits and the deep knowledge of wine. “He even knew Rioja, that Spanish wine. R-I-O-J-A,” Mr. Brooks said.
At 7:15, guests moved to a garden area, where Mr. Evans serenaded Mr. Victor’s blend of “style and substance” and recounted the way his friend would arrive at the couple’s summer home in his black Bentley.
Ms. Brown attended to Mr. Victor the world-class gossip, a “one-man transom” whom she first got to know at a book festival in the ’80s. He was running around in a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “My lawyer can beat your lawyer,” she recalled.
When a publisher did something irritating recently, Ms. Brown recalled Mr. Victor saying: “You want me to deal with this? Good. I am now Anna Karenina and I am going to throw myself under that train for you.”
Ms. Jong remembered him as someone who had no off-switch.
“Although he lived in London, you could reach him any time day or night,” Ms. Jong said. “If you called and said: ‘I owe the I.R.S. half a million dollars. I need a book deal,’ which was the situation I was in at one point, he’d say, ‘I got it.’”
The publisher Julie Grau had another story: “I was in London and had an appointment to meet him, and I walked into his beautiful office in Bloomsbury. He looked up stricken and he said he had just found out his mother had died. I said, ‘I’ll see you another time, I’m so sorry.’ He said: ‘Don’t leave. Let’s have lunch.’ And we went to a restaurant and had the most heartfelt, beautiful, memorable time together.”
When Mr. Victor learned he had leukemia more than a decade ago, his initial inclination was to pretend he was fine.
“He became very ill and didn’t tell me,” Ms. Jong said. “In our success-mad culture, if you go and tell people you have blood cancer, they write you off. I thought we were intimate friends and I was deeply hurt. I was deeply wrong. That was his way of dealing with the angel of death.”
When he went into remission, he called on Mr. Brooks to help raise money for cancer-related charities.
“I did shows for him,” Mr. Brooks said. “I would say, ‘Shouldn’t I get something for this?’ He’d say, ‘It all goes to leukemia!’”
When Mr. Victor’s cancer returned this year and he wound up in the hospital for what turned out to be the last time, he told his wife, Carol Ryan: “If this is it, I’m O.K. I’ve had a great life.”
He also gave instructions about what should follow after his death.
Not a funeral. Not a memorial service. “A party,” Mr. Evans said.
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