Farewell to Stubby Kaye, the rotund comic actor whose rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat" is forever preserved on the original cast album, the film, and the memories of audiences for Guys and Dolls, died Dec. 14 after battling lung cancer. According to the Associated Press obituary, Kaye was 79.
Kaye's first showbiz break was winning a Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio contest, which led to vaudeville and USO appearances. Then, on Nov. 24, 1950, Guys & Dolls opened at the 46th Street Theatre. Kaye played Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Nathan Detroit's chubby, mildly philosophical gambler sidekick. He helped introduce "Fugue for Tinhorns," "The Oldest Established" and the show's title song. But he provided one of the most memorable moments in that show, when, during a prayer meeting at the Save-a-Soul Mission, his hardened gambler character suffered a pang of conscience and sang "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." In the gospel-flavored song, he dreams he's "on a little boat to heaven," and tries to tempt other passengers with dice and booze, but they warn "the devil will drag you under by the fancy tie 'round your wicked throat."
Kaye was one of the few Broadway holdovers for the 1955 film version, which starred Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. Other Kaye appearances in film musicals include Li'l Abner and the minstrel sequences of Cat Ballou (with Nat King Cole).
Li'l Abner was Kaye's other big stage musical success, featuring the showcase number, "Jubilation T. Cornpone." Kaye played Marryin' Sam in the 1956 Gene DePaul/Johnny Mercer show, which was filmed in 1959.
Kaye played a burlesque comedian in the 1985 Broadway musical Grind, and made his last major film appearance in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as Marvin Acme, the mogul of Acme Industries, who plays patty-cake with Jessica Rabbit and has a safe dropped on him by Dr. Doom. -- By David Lefkowitz and Robert Viagas