Robert Lewis Taylor, 88, a journalist, biographer and novelist, who won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for "The Travels of Jamie McPheeters," died Sept. 30 at his home in Southbury, Conn. The cause of death was not reported.
"Jamie McPheeters" was the tale of a teenage boy and his father making the journey from Kentucky to California to start a new life in the America of 1849. The book brimmed with humor, local color and life as it told of the California gold rush, probably the largest migration of its kind in history.
Mr. Taylor's first novel, "Adrift in a Boneyard," appeared to mixed reviews in 1947. The following year, he published "Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief," a collection of amusing and interesting profiles he had written for magazines, as well as some fiction and travel pieces. A second collection, "The Running Pianist," appeared in 1950.
He also was the author of the immensely popular and critically acclaimed 1949 biography of the comedian W.C. Fields, "W.C. Fields, His Follies and Fortunes," which first appeared as a series in the Saturday Evening Post. His other biographies included the 1952 work, "Winston Churchill: An Informal Study of Greatness," and his 1966 book on Carry Nation, "Vessel of Wrath."
His later novels, which often featured teenagers and young men coming of age, included the 1961 book, "A Journey to Matecumbe," the story of a boy and an uncle and their struggles against the Ku Klux Klan, and the 1964 work, "Two Roads to Guadalupe," which told of the adventures of two teenage boys in the Mexican War. His other novels included "A Roaring Wind," published in 1978, and "Niagara," in 1980.
Mr. Taylor, a native of Carbondale, Ill., was a 1933 graduate of the University of Illinois. After a year touring six European countries by bicycle, he returned to Carbondale, spending a year as editor of its weekly newspaper, the Herald.
He later told a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune that, under him, the paper "was devoted mostly to libel. But it was a pleasant, cheerful sort of libel, and the townspeople came to enjoy it."
He abruptly quit Midwestern journalism to spend 1935 tramping about the South Seas and working briefly as a reporter for the Honolulu Advertiser. In 1936, he took a job as a reporter with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In 1939, he joined the staff of the New Yorker in New York, where he worked until the early 1960s. During World War II, he served in the Navy and attained the rank of lieutenant commander.
At the New Yorker, he became known for his breezy and witty profiles of unlikely and unusual characters. They ranged from bodybuilder Charles Atlas to a popular circus ape. In addition to stories in the New Yorker and Saturday Evening Post, he also contributed pieces to such publications as Redbook, Life and Collier's.
Long considered politically conservative, Mr. Taylor hardly seemed at home at the publication as the early 1960s came into view.
Brendan Gill, a fellow New Yorker reporter and author of the 1975 book "Here at the New Yorker," wrote of Mr. Taylor's leaving the magazine, writing that Mr. Taylor "drifted away from the magazine into wealth and a querulous political recidivism." Mr. Taylor became an ardent supporter of the 1964 presidential candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.). His wife, Judith, predeceased him. Survivors include two children and five grandchildren.