Analysis: besides a stellar acting career on stage and screen, Edward Mulhare is also the link between KITT and the popemobile

My grandfather told a good yarn. One of his best was that he went to school in the North Mon with an actor who used to be in a 1960s American television series, The Ghost and Mrs Muir. But it turns out this was not the only hit television show this Cork actor starred in. Edward Mulhare featured in every episode of the hit 1980s show, Knight Rider, as Devon Mills, the man in charge of F.L.A.G, the secret organisation that Michael Knight and KITT worked for.

Mulhare was born on the southside of Cork City in 1923. He attended the North Monastery and went on to briefly study medicine in University College Cork. While still a student, Mulhare landed his first role in a local production of The First Mrs Fraser in Cork Opera House. Inspired by this moment in the local limelight, he promptly left his studies and spent nearly a decade working in theatres around Ireland and Northern England. He finally made it to London, where he quickly landed roles alongside such English theatre greats as John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and Orson Wells.

It was through this stage work that he came to attention of the producers of the US production of My Fair Lady. Mulhare's big break came in 1957 when he took over the lead role as Henry Higgins from Rex Harrison on Broadway. The production toured the Soviet Union before returning to London for a sell-out run.

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Edward Mulhare sings "Ordinary Man" from My Fair Lady on The Ed Sullivan Show in March 1957

As a suave leading man, it was only a matter of time before Mulhare would transition to the big screen. He secured several small but significant parts in films like Our Man Flint (1966) and Caprice (1967). He's a bigger role in Von Ryan's Express (1965), as a German-speaking Allied chaplain, Capt. Costanzo, who works undercover in Nazi uniform, while his comrades hijack a freight train as it speeds through German-occupied Italy to Switzerland.

In 1968, Mulhare accepted the role as the charismatic and sardonic Capt. Daniel Gregg, alongside Hope Lange, in the hit NBC supernatural series, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. As fate would have it, Mulhare also shared this role with Rex Harrison who originally played Gregg in the film adaption in 1947. Mulhare was a natural fit and his on-screen chemistry with Lange was infectious. The show was sold around the world and was broadcast to huge audiences in Ireland in the early 1970s.

From Knight Rider Official, Devon Miles (Edward Mulhare) is arrested

Having made a number of guest appearances on popular shows like The Streets of San Francisco and an early episode of the original Battlestar Galactica, Mulhare entered the stratosphere in 1982 when cast in NBC’s new high-tech, action crime drama show, Knight Rider. Starring alongside leading man David Hasselhoff, Mulhare appeared in every episode, usually on the small computer screen fitted in KITT’s dashboard providing mission details and good advice to Michael Knight and KITT. It is hard to imagine there was only four seasons of Knight Rider as its slick production, gadgets and iconic cars made it a defining television show of the 1980s.

There is a usual twist to Mulhare's story. His brother’s Cork based firm, OBAM Vehicle Builders, were contracted to build the famous popemobile that allowed Pope John Paul II to glide through the crowds on his visit to Ireland. My grandfather, as a family friend, got to test drive the popemobile before it left their yard. Thanks to Mulhare, there are only a few degrees of separation between KITT and the popemobile.

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From RTÉ Archives, Tom McSweeney reports for RTÉ News in 1981 on what should be done with the popemobiles that were used by Pope John Paul II in Ireland

After the success of Knight Rider, Mulhare revived his links to the paranormal in 1988 when he hosted Secrets & Mysteries, a revival of NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries. His final appearance on the small screen was with David Hasselhoff in Baywatch Nights, a spin off from the archetype 90s smash-hit, Baywatch.

Mulhare died in 1997 after filming Out to Sea starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. He had fought a five-month battle with lung cancer. My grandfather died of throat cancer a few years later. Heavy smoking was common among young boys that grew up in Cork during their era. They are both buried quite close to each other in St. Joseph’s Cemetery.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ