Obituary: Edward Mulhare

Though born in Ireland, the actor Edward Mulhare specialised in portraying suavely cultivated Englishmen of droll wit and sometimes dubious morals.

Having established himself in the late-Fifties as a Broadway star when he succeeded Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, he spent the last 40 years in the United States, where his prolific work on stage, screen and television made him a popular player and box-office attraction, particularly in touring productions. His early career included notable work in the theatres of Ireland and England, including West End appearances with Orson Welles and Gladys Cooper.

Mulhare was born in Cork in 1923. Educated at St Nessan's School and North Monastery, he spent a few months reading medicine at the National University of Ireland before deciding to follow his passion for theatre, and at 19 he made his professional debut at the Cork Opera House playing in successive weeks Murdo in The First Mrs Fraser and Cassio in Othello. Joining the newly formed Dublin Theatre Guild, who were recruiting talent from all over Ireland, he played Bill Walker in Shaw's Major Barbara, Horace Giddens in Hellman's The Little Foxes and La Hire in Shaw's St Joan.

He made his first appearance in England with an Ensa unit as Max De Winter in Rebecca. After sporadic employment with the Gate Theatre in Dublin and club theatres in London, in 1950 he was named leading man of the Liverpool Repertory Company, which had spawned Rex Harrison and Michael Redgrave. The following year he played Othello once more, this time as Lodovico to Orson Welles' Moor at the St James' Theatre, produced by Laurence Olivier. Though this by Kenneth Tynan, who described Welles as having "the courage of his restrictions", it was generally well received.

In 1952 Mulhare was part of the John Gielgud season at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, and with Gielgud he subsequently went to the Rhodes Festival at Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), in Richard II. In 1953 he made his film debut in Thorold Dickinson's Israeli-made film Hill 24 Doesn't Answer. In this potent drama of the fight for modern Israel, he was top-billed as one of four soldiers defending a hill outside Jerusalem in the 1948 war. The same year he had a featured role as Sidney Willis MP, in the West End production of The Night of the Ball with Gladys Cooper and Wendy Hiller.

A turning-point in his career came in 1957, when he was chosen to succeed Rex Harrison in the Broadway production of My Fair Lady. With his suave urbanity and clipped British accent, he proved a popular successor and played the role for three years, his Elizas including Julie Andrews, Sally Ann Howes and Anne Rogers. When Rex Harrison saw the show for the first time as a member of the audience, he found Mulhare "very good - I was enchanted with the whole performance".

In 1960 he went with the show to Russia then decided to settle in the US, where he found steady employment on stage, screen and television. On Broadway he starred in The Devil's Advocate (1961) and succeeded Michael Wilding in Jean Kerr's hit comedy Mary, Mary (1961). Later he starred in a Los Angeles production of The Sound of Music, and with Anne Rogers, who had become one of his closest friends, he toured the US in the musical Camelot and play Death Trap as well as revivals of My Fair Lady. In the early Seventies he toured 159 American cities in a production of Shaw's Don Juan in Hell with Myrna Loy, Ricardo Montalban and Kurt Kasznar. "Edward Mulhare made a superb Devil," said Loy later. "He possessed all the charm and wit for the part."

On screen he was one of the British prisoners-of-war, an army padre who impersonates a German officer during a daring escape in Von Ryan's Express (1964), and he was an effectively smooth villain in two spoofs of James Bond movies, the hit Our Man Flint (1966) starring James Coburn, and the dire Caprice (1967) in which he was a duplicitous cosmetics tycoon, involved in a covert drugs operation, who recruits Doris Day as an industrial spy.

His prolific television work started in England with two episodes of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1956). American series in which he appeared included Murder She Wrote, Streets of San Francisco, Outer Limits, Hart To Hart, Battlestar Galactica, and regular roles in two further series, both of which becane hits.

When the 1941 film The Ghost and Mrs Muir was converted to a television series in 1968, Mulhare again followed in Harrison's footsteps as the ghost of an irascible sea captain who shares a Cornish cottage with an attractive widow (Hope Lange, in Gene Tierney's original role). The show ran for two years and made Mulhare a household name.

He was to have an even bigger success in 1982 with Knight Rider, in which he was the dapper Devon Miles, mentor to an undercover policeman (David Hasselhoff), who has been killed but brought back to life and given a lavishly equipped car (which could leap 50 feet in the air - and talk) in which to defend the unfortunate and fight injustice. With particular appeal to young audiences, it was the first show on the NBC network to hold its own against Dallas on CBS, and ran for five years and 90 episodes.

Mulhare continued to act until diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, and has a role in the forthcoming Jack Lemmon / Walter Matthau film Out to Sea.

Tom Vallance

Edward Mulhare, actor: born Cork, Ireland 8 April 1923; died Los Angeles 24 May 1997.

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