TO Irish television viewers watching Knight Rider in the 1980s, or to an earlier generation watching The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in the 1970s, Edward Mulhare appeared to be the quintessential English actor, and few might have guessed that he had been born on Cork’s Quaker Road.
On Knight Rider (1982-1986), Michael Knight (David Hasselhoff) drove around righting wrongs in a talkative Pontiac Firebird Trans Am called KITT, provided by his debonair, patrician boss, Mulhare’s Devon Miles, a character as British as steak and kidney pie and profound historic ignorance.
Mulhare appeared in all 90 episodes of the show and would go on to reprise the role in the 1991 made-for-TV film Knight Rider 2000, in which the character was killed off. Perhaps for that reason, Knight Rider purists don’t consider that sub-par outing canonical.
From 1968 to 1970, widowed mother-of-two Carolyn Muir (Hope Lange) rented Gull Cottage in Schooner Bay, Maine, soon learning that she shared her accommodation with the house’s original owner, a bad-tempered but charming century-dead English sea captain named Daniel Gregg, a role for which Mulhare received an Emmy nomination.
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was an American sitcom based on the 1947 romantic fantasy film of the same name starring Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison. Capitalising on the obvious onscreen chemistry between its stars, the television show was wittier and less sentimental than its predecessor, and, as it happened, it wasn’t the first time that Mulhare would follow Harrison’s lead, but more on that in a moment.
Edward Mulhare was born on April 8, 1923, at 22 Quaker Road, to John and Catherine (nee Keane) Mulhare, one of four children. The family moved to Tonyville when he was a baby, and he went to school at St Nessan’s Christian Brothers School on Sullivan’s Quay, and the North Mon, before going on to briefly study medicine at UCC.
It was in college that he joined the Cork Little Theatre Society, where his friend James Stack inspired his love of acting, and he landed his first role, at the age of 19, in a 1942 production of The First Mrs Fraser in the Cork Opera House.
Well and truly bitten by the acting bug at his very first taste of the limelight, the young man promptly packed in medicine for a career in theatre. After nine years touring Ireland and the North of England, playing with the likes of the Gate Theatre and the Liverpool Repertory Company, Mulhare made it to London, appearing in a 1951 Laurence Olivier-directed production of Othello, with Orson Welles in the title role.
In 1955 he starred in Hill 24 Doesn’t Answer, the first feature film produced in Israel, and in 1956 he landed his first television role, guest starring in The Adventures of Robin Hood.
Spotted in Othello by lyricist and librettist Alan Jay Lerner, Mulhare was signed as an understudy to Rex Harrison in the role of Professor Henry Higgins in Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady, which would prove to be his big break.
A report in the Cork Examiner on December 5, 1956, saw Mulhare discuss his plans for his first trip to America. “My family have heard only skimp details about it, so they will be hearing about it from you for the first time,” he told the Examiner, confiding that he expected to only make a few appearances in the play.
As it happened, My Fair Lady ran on Broadway from 1956 to 1962, with Harrison bowing out in November 1957 and Mulhare taking over.
Mulhare played Higgins on Broadway, to critical acclaim, more than 1,000 times between 1957 and 1960, going on to tour the play extensively in the Soviet Union, before returning to London for a sell-out run.
That he would also go on to success on television following on from Rex Harrison as Captain Gregg in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir would prove a slight historical oddity.
For all of his talent and suave, leading man looks, he never quite cracked the big screen, appearing as the chaplain Captain Costanzo in Frank Sinatra’s 1965 World War II thriller Von Ryan’s Express, a baddie in the 1966 James Coburn Bond parody Our Man Flint, and another baddie in the 1967 Doris Day and Richard Harris comedy thriller Caprice.
TV roles proved steadier, and he appeared twice on The Streets of San Francisco, in 1972 and 1974, he guested in Battlestar Galactica, 1979, Hart to Hart, 1979, in two episodes of Murder She Wrote in 1986, and MacGyver (1986).
In 1988 he hosted Secrets & Mysteries, a magazine programme investigating the paranormal.
His final TV role was a 1996 guest appearance on Baywatch Nights opposite his old Knight Rider co-star David Hasselhoff. His final film role was in Out to Sea (1997), playing Walter Matthau’s romantic rival.
A lifelong smoker, he died of lung cancer in his California home on 24 May, 1997, at the age of 74.
His Washington Post obituary lists two survivors, his brothers Thomas and John.
We have little information about his private life, and although Who’s Who in TV 1968-1969 described “the tall blonde charmer” as “a real ladies man”, he never married.
A 1969 TV Guide profile of the actor noted that he received thousands of “propositions” every week from female admirers.
“I got one recently from Nebraska,” he told a reporter.
“Well, I must say, if Nebraska weren’t so bloody far away, I might have looked into that one.”
Edward Mulhare’s ashes are buried in a family grave in St Joseph’s cemetery in Ballyphehane, beneath a gravestone erected by Anne Mulhare in memory of her niece Ellen, who died in 1803.
According to Cork City Council staff, the grave has become something of a place of pilgrimage for Knight Rider fans.
A relative of Mulhare’s, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been working since March of last year to restore the blackened gravestone, carefully cleaning away two centuries of dirt and algae to reveal a beautiful, cream-coloured marble monument decorated with a rose motif.
In correspondence with The Echo, they expressed the hope that their restoring the gravestone might gain a little publicity and help Cork to better remember a native of Quaker Road who went on to international stardom on stage and screen, while remaining, they said, a “kind and generous” soul.