Sterling Lord, Premier Literary Agent, Is Dead at 102

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After graduating with a degree in English from Grinnell College in Iowa, Mr. Lord was drafted into the Army and shipped to Europe near the end of World War II. When the fighting stopped, he helped edit the weekly magazine of the military publication Stars and Stripes; when the Army dropped that publication in 1948, he and a colleague briefly ran it privately, first out of Frankfurt, Germany, and then Paris, where Mr. Lord adopted the dapper dress that became his signature. When the magazine closed in 1949, he moved to New York.

Over the next few years he either worked on or edited several magazines, including True and Cosmopolitan. Those experiences convinced him that literary agents were not serving magazine writers well and that they had failed to spot changes in the postwar literary marketplace. Americans, including millions of former G.I.s, were suddenly more mobile, less provincial and less interested in escapist fiction than they were in understanding the world around them.

One early client was Al Hirshberg, who ghostwrote “Fear Strikes Out,” Jimmy Piersall’s memoir of baseball and mental illness. Another was Rowland Barber, who helped the silent Marx brother write “Harpo Speaks!”

Mr. Lord persuaded HarperCollins to pay $3.2 million to lure the Berenstain Bears children’s books from Random House. He got Erica Jong $1.2 million for her novel “Fanny” and Judge John J. Sirica $500,000 for the paperback rights to his Watergate memoir.

Rarely, he boasted, did he scour for clients, let alone steal them as others were increasingly wont to do. His old-fashioned ways extended even to his letterhead, which listed his telephone number as “Plaza 1-2533.” “If you didn’t know New York City was 212, he really didn’t want to hear from you,” said Stuart Krichevsky, a fellow agent who worked with Mr. Lord for 16 years.

In 1987, Mr. Lord joined the agent Peter Matson to form Sterling Lord Literistic. Mr. Lord gradually yielded day-to-day management and eventually sold his stock. But he continued to work, and into his 90s remained the highest-earning agent in the office.

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