You could pitch his story in a simple sentence: Iowa boy makes good. After graduating from Grinnell College, where he was captain of the tennis team, he worked for Cosmopolitan and other magazines in the 1940s and early ‘50s. He met several writers he thought talented enough to write books and many agents he thought without the knowledge to make the best deals. So he became an agent himself.
‘‘I had never even seen a book-publishing contract,’’ he writes.
Many of Lord’s favorite stories are told with a sense of amazement that he was part of them. He enraged LBJ when he declined to help find a publisher for his memoir, believing that the president was mostly interested in money and doubting — with good reason, it turned out — the book’s potential. He became friendly with Jackie Kennedy during her years as a book editor at Doubleday and Viking in the 1970s and ‘80s, sitting next to her at a dinner at the ‘‘21’’ club and serving her sandwiches for lunch in his office.
‘‘Before she left the office, she unobtrusively managed to chat with every secretary or assistant in the agency,’’ Lord writes.
Lord also has lived to see ‘‘On the Road’’ finally come out last year as a movie, a process that began decades earlier when Lord first sold the film rights and Kerouac had hoped to interest Marlon Brando. But Lord has yet to see the screen version, directed by Walter Salles. He had tickets for opening night, but knew the movie had received mixed reviews and was not interested in the after-screening party.
‘‘I decided to go home,’’ he says.