© 2022, The Berenstain Bears
My family's literary agent of sixty years,
Sterling Lord, passed away at the age of
Sterling sold the very first Berenstain
Bears book, The Big Honey Hunt, to Ted
(Dr. Seuss) Geisel at Random House in
1961. I knew Sterling from childhood on
through my own professional working
life. He was a charming and
distinguished gentleman of publishing.
My parents wrote about their
introduction to Sterling in their
autobiography, Down a Sunny Dirt Road:
“It took us about two months to write and illustrate the manuscript of our
children’s book. During that period, two things happened that governed the
fate of both the manuscript and its authors. First, a group of editors with
whom we were working decided we needed an agent. Their reason: too
many legal questions were arising in the course of our helter-skelter
cartooning/writing career. Did the “next book” clause in our contract with
Macmillan, our hardbook publisher, cover original paperbacks? Did we
own the rights to our McCall’s cartoons or did McCall’s? Was the “greeting
books” project we were working on with Bantam in conflict with our
While the idea of giving up 10 percent
of our earnings to our agent wasn’t
anathema, it was worrisome to a couple
of penny-counting overgrown
depression-era kids. However, given
the increasingly complicated job of
negotiating contracts, the idea was
beginning to sound attractive. But we
didn’t know anything about agents.
How would we find one? We asked our
various editors – Al Hart at Macmillan,
Arlene Donovan and Marc Jaffe at Dell, and Knox Burger at Fawcett – for
suggestions They each gave us a list of three or four agents. The names
meant nothing to us. But there was the odd circumstance that one name
appeared on all of the lists.
“Who is Sterling Lord? How come he is on all of the lists?” we
asked Darlene Donovan (who went on to become a leading movie producer,
most notably, perhaps, of Places of the Heart, which won two Academy
“Well, it sort of makes sense,” said Arlene. “What are you two? Are
you cartoonists who write or are you writers who cartoon? You’re neither
fish nor fowl. And Sterling is…well, flexible.
“Flexible how?” we asked.
“He’s open to trying new things. Right now, for instance, he’s
booking Jack Kerouac into coffeehouses for poetry readings.”
“Oh,” we said.
“Is there anything you’d like me to do for starters?”
asked Sterling at our first meeting When we told
him about our grand plan for a children’s book about
a family of bears, he said, “Fine. I’ll give Phyllis a
“Who’s Phyllis?” we asked.
“Phyllis is Bennett’s wife,” he explained to
the two hicks from Philadelphia. “She’s a publisher
at Beginner Books.”
We did know that Bennett Cerf was chairman and
co-founder of Random House. We watched him
guess occupations every Sunday night as a panelist on What’s My Line.
We sent Sterling the Bear manuscript. A couple days later he called
and said he’d had a nice lunch with Phyllis. She loved our work in
McCall’s and was sending a contract over by messenger.
Wow! Woosh! So that’s how it was done! You got yourself an agent
who was on a first-name, let’s have brunch basis with Phyllis Cerf and just
like that, abracadabra, presto change-o, a contract was sent over via
Berenstain Family Literary Agent, Sterling
Lord, Passes away at 102.