Danny Kaye, 74, an entertainer whose special gifts for funny faces and verbal nonsense helped give life to such characters as Walter Mitty, the little guy whose escape into heroic fantasy reflects the everyday struggle between the ridiculous and the sublime, died of hepatitis yesterday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Mr. Kaye was a performer of explosive energy and a master of "slapshtick." Although he had a talent for improvisation and an impeccable sense of timing, some of his best-known routines were thought out with meticulous care. Among them was "Tchaikovsky," a song in which he recited the names of 50 Russian composers in 38 seconds, and bits of dialect in which he played upper-class Englishmen, lower-class Bostonians and the likes of "Anatole of Paris," "Pavlova" and "Stanislavsky."

He began his career as a tummeler, or creator of tumult and general fun and games, in the resorts of the Borscht belt in the Catskill Mountains of New York. He made a name for himself on Broadway, where he appeared in "Lady in the Dark" in 1940 and "Let's Face It" in 1941.

Movies brought him to a much wider audience, beginning with "Up in Arms" in 1944. Other films were "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1947), "The Inspector General" (1949), "Hans Christian Andersen" (1952), "White Christmas" (1954) and "The Madwoman of Chaillot" (1969). In the 1960s, he hosted "The Danny Kaye Show" on television. He had a full career on the concert stage.

He raised millions for various charities, particularly for the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and he was known as the "ambassador to the world's children." Although he could not read music, he conducted many of the world's great symphony orchestras and in this way he raised more than $6 million for musicians' pension plans. He once led the Cleveland Symphony through the "Flight of the Bumblebee" using a fly swatter for a baton.

In 1954, he received a special Academy Award "for his unique talents, his service to the academy, the motion picture industry and the American people." He received an Emmy for his television show in 1963 and another in 1975 for a children's special. In 1982, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him its Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charitable work. In 1984, Mr. Kaye was one of five artists to receive a Kennedy Center Honor at a gala evening attended by President and Mrs. Reagan.

In a statement released by the White House yesterday, Reagan praised Mr. Kaye as a performer who "delighted millions the world over with his special talent for making us laugh. He shared his talent with the world and by so doing made it a better place."

The essence of Mr. Kaye's talent was nonsense. A graceful six-footer who weighed 160 pounds and had a shock of red hair, he had a face that he could contort through an astonishing range of emotions and characters from laughter to grief and from good guys to bad guys. What he had to say, if it was intelligible at all, was apt to be in a funny accent. Often it was double-talk. Sometimes he talked or sang in scat.

Not for him was social commentary. Such fun as he poked was gentle fun. His humor was in the sight and sound of him rather than in what he said. Children -- and most of their parents -- loved him.

His wife, Sylvia Fine, who wrote and produced some of his best material, used to say, "Walter Mitty dreamed it, Danny Kaye lived it." The Mitty character, a creation of James Thurber, was a commuter who dreamed about being a fighter pilot or some other kind of hero. The film gave Mr. Kaye a chance to play six roles. His wife's remark applied not only to his career but to what he did away from the footlights.

Mr. Kaye was a world-class cook of Chinese cuisine and the only American amateur to receive the Les Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, France's top culinary award. (Asked why he specialized in Chinese cooking, he said that because "speed and fierce heat are the prerequisites," he thought it derived from the way he performed on stage.)

He was a longtime friend of Leo Durocher, the baseball manager, and he was a former owner and general partner of the Seattle Mariners baseball team.

Mr. Kaye was so popular in Britain, where he appeared every year for a number of years in the late 1940s and early 1950s, that the London Evening Standard once announced his presence by showing a picture of his hat and his shoes with a headline that merely said, "He's here."

He was honored by the royalty of Britain and Denmark. He told a story about having a conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury outside the House of Commons in London. Moments later, his car almost ran over the prelate, who then said, "Young man, you very nearly achieved a real measure of fame." "Isn't that great?" Mr. Kaye would say.

Mr. Kaye was a pilot and once flew himself to the Mayo Clinic for an appendectomy. Having witnessed numerous operations on other people, he was an honorary member of the American College of Surgeons.

In 1970, while appearing on Broadway in "Two by Two," he fell and hurt the ligaments in his right foot. He continued to perform for several months in a wheelchair and on crutches.

In 1983, he underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery. Yesterday, Dr. Charles Kivowitz, his physician, said the star contracted hepatitis from a blood transfusion he received during that operation. A spokesman said Mr. Kaye's wife and his daughter Dena were with him when he died.

David Daniel Kominski was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Jan. 18, 1913. His parents, Jacob and Clara Nemerovsky Kominski, immigrated to this country from Russia. His father was a tailor. While growing up, the boy wanted to be a physician. The family finances did not permit this.

The boy also enjoyed performing for anyone who would watch. Midway through his senior year, he dropped out of Thomas Jefferson High School and ran away to Florida with a friend. It is said he began the trip with $1.50 and came back with $7 that he earned by singing while his pal played the guitar. He also worked in a drugstore and for an insurance company, and he began entertaining at private parties.

After performing on a Brooklyn radio show, he got a job at a resort hotel in the Catskills. He made $1,000 during the summers and lived on that during the winters, which he spent trying to get a job on Broadway. In 1933, he toured with Dave Harvey and Kathleen Young as "The Three Terpsichoreans." A year later, he went to the Orient with a show produced by A.B. Marcus of Detroit. Since many of the audiences spoke no English, this gave him an opportunity to improve his skills at pantomime and double-talk.

In 1938, he made an unsuccessful appearance in a cabaret in the Dorchester Hotel in London. There followed an engagement at a summer camp in Pennsylvania and it was there that he met Fine. In 1939, at the end of the summer season, she and producer Max Liebman put on "The Straw Hat Revue" on Broadway with Imogene Coca as the star. Mr. Kaye appeared in 10 of the skits and got favorable notices from the critics.

This led to a successful nightclub appearance and "Lady in the Dark," which starred Gertrude Lawrence. At that point, Mr. Kaye's success was such that he was paid $2,000 a week for nightclub appearances.

During World War II, he was turned down for military service because of a bad back. Instead, he sold war bonds and appeared at Army bases and hospitals in this country and the South Pacific. He also entertained U.S. troops in Korea.

Mr. Kaye used to say that everyone is an actor and that he came closer to acting as he really was than most people. But he said he had no idea of why this was so successful with audiences.

"I go out on a stage and I try to perform as well as I know how," he told The Washington Post in 1984. "The fact that you read magic into it is something else again. I have nothing to do with that."

DR. LOUIS PLACK HAMMETT, 92, a pioneer in the field of physical organic chemistry and former board chairman of the American Chemical Society who taught at Columbia University for 41 years before retiring in 1961, died Feb. 23 at his home in Medford, N.J., after a stroke.

As the author of the 1940 book "Physical Organic Chemistry," he became a founder of that field. Until that classic book was published, physical organic chemistry was neither widely taught nor even widely used as a term. Most authorities credit the book with greatly stimulating work in the field.

The American Chemical Society called the book "a masterpiece of original synthesis and a model of terse and lucid writing." Dr. Hammett, who joined the society in 1916, was its board chairman in 1961. During the 1960s, he received the society's James Flack Norris Award and its Priestly Medal, the organization's highest honor. His other awards included a 1967 National Medal of Science, the government's highest honor for scientific achievement.

Dr. Hammett's work became the basis of the vast research field involving correlation analysis in organic chemistry. His research on the speed of chemical processes and the arrangement of atoms within molecules helped clarify the theory of acidity and added to the knowledge of chemical reactions in solutions.

He also devised the Hammett acidity function and the Hammett equation.

Dr. Hammett was born in Delaware and grew up in Maine. He was a 1916 summa cum laude graduate of Harvard University and earned a master's degree and a doctorate in chemistry at Columbia University. He joined the Columbia faculty in 1920 and retired as professor emeritus in 1961. He had been chemistry department chairman in the 1950s.

During World War II, he was research supervisor and director of the national defense research committee of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he conducted rocket propellant and explosives research. From 1946 to 1947, he was chairman of the chemistry and chemical technology division of the National Research Council here.

Survivors include his wife of 67 years, the former Janet Thorpe Marriner of Medford; a son, Philip Marriner Hammett of Philadelphia; a daughter, Jane Zwemer of Kensington; a sister, Helen Owen of Friendship, Maine; seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

RICHARD McDONALD COX, 63, a retired producer and director of news and special events programs for WRC-TV in Washington, died March 1 at Georgetown University Hospital after a heart attack.

Mr. Cox, of McLean, was born in Wheeling, W.Va. He graduated from the University of New Mexico. During World War II, he served in the Army in the Pacific and won the Bronze Star Medal.

After the war, he worked for a family paper and lumber business in North Carolina and West Virginia. He studied broadcasting in New York and began his broadcasting career in Danville, Va.

In the early 1950s, Mr. Cox moved to Washington and joined WRC-TV, the NBC affiliate. Besides the normal run of news and special events assignments, he made a specialty of religious programs. For about 25 years, he directed the Christmas Day broadcast from the Washington Cathedral for NBC, and in 1977 the cathedral conducted a special service in which this work was honored.

Mr. Cox was a member of the Broadcast Pioneers, the Directors Guild of America and the Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville.

Survivors include his wife, Martha Williams Cox of McLean; one daughter, Gray C. Dowell of Oakton; one sister, Virginia C. Inge of Arlington, and three grandchildren.

DAVID MONDZAC, 86, retired editor and publisher of the old American Jewish Journal in Washington, died of a stroke Feb. 28 at his home in Silver Spring.

Mr. Mondzac was born in Warsaw and moved to New York City when he was 10. He graduated from City College of New York and received a master's degree in journalism from New York University. During the 1920s, he was a reporter at newspapers in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Detroit. He moved to the Washington area in 1932.

During the 1930s, he was editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper, the Washington Jewish Review. From the 1940s until he retired in 1980, he was editor and publisher of the American Jewish Journal, a quarterly magazine that dealt with political and intellectual issues affecting Jewish life.

During the early 1970s, Mr. Mondzac did consulting work for the Spanish government on the history of Jews in Spain as part of an effort to increase Jewish tourism in that country.

His wife Sally died in 1985. Survivors include one son, Allen Mondzac of Potomac, and one grandson.

WILLIAM L. SHEA JR., 74, a retired civilian fire chief at the Naval Communications Station at Cheltenham, Md., died of cardiopulmonary arrest March 1 at Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

Mr. Shea, of Oxon Hill, was born in Hanson, Mass. He served in the Navy in the Atlantic in World War II. He was stationed in the Washington area at the end of the war and became a civilian firefighter for the Navy when he left the service in 1947.

He was assigned to various facilities, including the Anacostia Naval Air Station, before going to Cheltenham about 1973. He retired as fire chief in 1973. He later was a school bus driver for Prince George's County until retiring again in the early 1980s.

In 1957, while still working for the Navy, Mr. Shea founded the Eastover Cab Co. He ran it until about 1969, when he sold it.

Mr. Shea was a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus, an usher at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and a member of the Massachusetts State Society.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Rita Shea of Oxon Hill; one son, John L. Shea of Silver Spring, and one sister, Marion Kish of Daytona Beach, Fla.