14 June 2006 | Cheyenne-Bodie
James Wainwright's shot at stardom
James Wainwright gave a fine performance in the first episode of "The Senator" starring Hal Holbrook in 1970. Senator Hays Stowe had received a death threat, and Wainwright played the cop in charge of protecting the senator when he makes a speech at a college. Wainwright gave a subtle, understated, unshowy performance that really registered even though he only had a supporting role and he was in a cast of superb actors. Wainwright had particularly strong chemistry with the senator's frightened wife (lovely Sharon Acker). Wainwright projected a quiet decency and everyman quality that could remind one of David Janssen or James Franciscus (or Hal Holbrook for that matter).
Up to this point James Wainwright had only played supporting roles, but Unviversal now saw his star potential, and "Jigsaw" was the result. (This is similar to what happened when Mark Harmon played a secret service agent so brilliantly on "West Wing" and got "NCIS" as a result. But Harmon was already a star.) Talented writer Robert E. Thompson ("They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", "A Case of Rape", "Harry O") created "Jigsaw" about a cop trying to find missing persons in California. The producer was Stanley Kallis, who had done "Hawaii 5-0" and would go on to do "Police Story" the next season. "Jigsaw" was kind of a precursor to "Without a Trace". But the writers and producer couldn't seem to figure out how to turn this promising premise into compelling drama. The show was a competent but not very involving police procedural.
After five episodes, Roy Huggins ("77 Sunset Strip","The Outsider") and Stephen Cannell were brought in to retool the series. They had Wainwright quit the force and become a private detective. Suddenly everything was a little more noir and a little less dry. This promising approach might have caught on if they had more time. (Huggins/Cannell went on to create/produce "The Rockford Files" pilot the next year.)
James Wainwight eventually guest starred on both "Police Story" and "The Rockford Files", working for his former bosses.
Universal did a stylish movie pilot in 1971 for "Ellery Queen" with Peter Lawford as Queen. Ellery Queen could have been a star making role for James Wainwright, especially if the series was on the mystery wheel with "Columbo".
Wainwright made a pilot movie for Universal in 1976 called "Bridger". Wainwright played true life mountain man Jim Bridger. Ben Murphy played Kit Carson and probably would have been a regular. Sally Field was also in the movie. The project might have been inspired by the success of Robert Redford's "Jeremiah Johnson".
James Wainwright was an ex-Marine and an ex-Carnegie Mellon art student. He trained at the Actor's Studio. James Wainwright came close to being a star and he managed to make a living as an actor. He gave some strong performances. He did all right.
"Jigsaw" was one of three alternating series making up "The Men". The other shows were "Assignment Vienna" with Robert Conrad and "The Delphi Bureau" with Laurence Luckinbill.