Question: I had a huge crush on Edward Mulhare before he was on Knight Rider, going way back to The Ghost & Mrs. Muir. My question is: How did Captain Gregg die in order to become a ghost? Thank you for your help.
Answer: A 19th-century sea captain, Daniel Gregg (the late Mulhare, who did indeed appear on Knight Rider, as F.L.A.G. head Devon Miles) was asphyxiated in his sleep when a gas heater was knocked over. As if that weren't enough to make him a grumpy spirit, his death was reported as a suicide, which set him up to be none too welcoming to his greedy nephew's (Charles Nelson Reilly) prospective tenants in contemporary times. (The series ran for a year on NBC, beginning in September 1968, and was then picked up for another season by ABC.)
But as fans of the novel, of the 1947 feature film and of the show all know, the irascible Gregg was no match for the right flesh-and-blood lady. On TV that lady was Carolyn Muir (the late Hope Lange), who moved into the New England coast's Gull Cottage with her two kids (Kellie Flanagan, Harlan Carraher) and their cute dog, Scruffy (who, it's worth noting, had been picked up at the Hollywood pound for $7.50 in real life before appearing on the series). After the widow Muir moved in and Gregg tried to scare her off, she stood up to him and he reluctantly agreed to let her and her family live there on a trial basis. Eventually, of course, the relationship between the two grew into something more (as much as a relationship between a living woman and a dead guy could in two seasons, anyway).
The result was a charming series, which TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory praised for its "interesting, highly individual, sharply defined characters," calling Lange "cute without being too cute, and good fun without always trying to be funny" and applauding Mulhare for playing his role "to a fare-thee-well." Despite its short run, the show was well put together, and you weren't alone in your sizable crush.
A 1969 TV Guide profile of the actor noted that he received thousands of letters every week from female admirers "propositions," Mulhare termed them. "I got one recently from Nebraska," he told a reporter before trailing off. Prodded for more, he said: "Well, I must say, if Nebraska weren't so bloody far away, I might have looked into that one."
Asked about the perils of being the dream of so many women, Mulhare, who'd already had success in his career haviing followed Rex Harrison into the stage role of Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady before doing the same with the role of Captain Gregg (Harrison costarred with Gene Tierney in the Mrs. Muir film) explained that his previous fame taught him how to live with it. "I had that in New York with My Fair Lady," he said, laughing, "so I'm used to it. Actually, it's easier now because I'm not recognized so often. I have my blond hair darkened for the show and they put the beard on me every morning, so I'm astounded when people do recognize me on the street."
The chin-wear, in fact, no doubt helped Mulhare call forth the short-tempered Gregg's ire. "The false beard is a bloody bother, though, and if I can find enough time, say eight weeks, before our next season begins, I'll certainly grow my own," he said. "As it is, I shy away from the makeup man with his spirit gum because the stuff gives me a rash. Also, it takes nearly two hours in the morning and another half hour after lunch to be made up. That I would like to avoid in the future." (Note from your friendly Televisionary, who acted poorly in various junior-high and high-school musicals: He wasn't just whining. I once had to sport both a false beard and nose, and spirit gum and fake hair are truly nasty pieces of work.)
As for Lange, she was already semiretired and raising her own kids after working as a model, appearing with Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop and being nominated for an Oscar in Peyton Place. "There haven't been too many movies in the last few years that didn't entail location work. I didn't want to be away from home, and I didn't see any reason to take the parts I was offered. That left television," she explained when asked why she'd gone back to work. Even so, she admitted she wasn't initially interested in the part when producers called her, and her husband said she "backed into" the role.
Once she did, however, her bosses, colleagues and friends served up a level of praise not often seen in some of those old TV Guide stories. (Most stars have people to say nice things about them, but everyone loved Lange.) Perhaps the funniest compliment came from Muir associate producer Lew Gallo, whose choice of words certainly reflected the lack of political correctness of the time: "Hope is a well-rounded person," he said. "She's marvelous, the Tiffany of broads on TV."