When most people were trying to figure out who tried to blow away J.R. Ewing, and the money was good in Vegas, I called an old and dear friend of mine and asked if he did it.

I told him I could get some money and lay a bet and we could both come out with a bit more than the rent.

He said, "Uncle Joe, I really don't know who did it. I don't know whether I did or not."

Jared Martin, who plays Dusty Farlow in "Dallas," I have known since he was born, and we have shared many experiences together.

His father, Charles, is my brother. He changed his name to Martin when he was a young artist looking for work in New York. That was during the days of Al Capone, and a person with an Italian name had trouble getting started. Charles later shifted to the initials CEM and became one of the top cover artists on The New Yorker magazine.

Jared and I used to get together when I was a sailor and he was a tot and I could pay back his mother, Florence, for a good meal by taking the little fellow on an outing to a park alongside the East River in Manhattan.

Wars, schools and time separate people, and the next time we ran across each other was when my wife and I, along with two very young daughters, moved to a converted barn in New City, Rockland County, N.Y., and the Martin family lived about an acre away. Jared was about 8 then.

He loved the invasion of people in this quiet country setting, where he ran free, roaming the wooded areas hunting Indians or whatever the foe happened to be that day.

From the beginning he had great imagination and a sense of drama. On a second birthday for Susie, our oldest daughter, he brought a toy rifle as a gift.

She, of course, had to ask, "What is it?"

An hour later he was back to borrow it, saying, "You know that gun I gave you, there are some enemies out there," pointing to the woods. "I would like to have it back for a while."

He ran off, falling behind boulders, firing away, fighting a war in the trees, bushes, sunlight and shadows.

I hung a basket on a huge cherry tree in the driveway and taught him what basketball I could remember. We would play for hours, and he became very good.

We wrestled, tossed footballs and baseballs, and each Friday night he would show up at the barn with his Monopoly set under his arm to play with my wife, Mary -- and gloat gleefully while winning.

Jared became our baby sitter when we had the chance for a night at a movie, and he could eat a half dozen apples and all the oranges and be sound asleep on the job when we returned. In the morning there would be an IOU in the refrigerator for all the fruit. But you could never be upset with him.

Just as he is in "Dallas," Jared has always been easy to like: a good-sized guy, handsome, easygoing, interested in others.

His acting ability came through one Christmas Eve when we finally had the children in bed and asleep so that we could get the gifts under the tree.

Suddenly outside their window there was a jingle of sleigh bells and a loud "ho, ho, ho" and the kids were out of bed like a shot screaming, "He's here, Santa is here."

I chased him up the road, but he was quicker and got away.

But Jared could be serious, too. He always posed questions about World War II. His probing was deep and quietly demanding, so we talked. After that, he went off to school.

Putney School, in Vermont, is the place he attended. The local high school football coach wanted Jared to play center, even though he would have made a great quarterback, and Jared would have played any position. But Putney was his father's idea when he found it did not have a football team. The father played in the middle of the line for many years and didn't want to see his son there, and called me a dancer because I used to run with the ball and score touchdowns.

So Jared and I parted for a few years, seeing each other only during the holidays until he enrolled at Columbia University. I was on The New York Times, and he would come down one night a week, gorge himself on the old movies in Times Square, meet me for dinner and order two plates of spaghetti.

School was a problem -- he liked the movies -- so he took off for a semester and I helped him land a copy boy's job in The Times' Book Review section.

But newspapers weren't his love. He had been stung by the acting bug, having had a first taste of it in a drama group his mother enrolled him in upstate, and he belonged to a theater group at Columbia.

An editor came to me one day and asked how Jared was, told me that he had called in with a bad back. I confirmed it, but he came back with, "One of the photographers just saw him down on Second Avenue. Someone is shooting a movie and he's in the crowd scene."

Back at Columbia, there was a production of "Ondine," and Jared played the good knight, using a Volkswagen hubcap for a shield.

He was proud to get our family front-row seats, and when he was slain our two young daughters rose up as one and said, "They killed our cousin."

Columbia finally graduated him after six long years -- he gave his mother his diploma because, as he said, she wanted it more than he did.

He hung around New York for a while, married, had a son his wife named Christian Mastrangelo Martin.

He is an excellent father, even after a divorce, and spends all the time he can with Christian.

About 1970, Jared moved to California to get acting work. His break, his role in "Dallas," was a long time coming. We still see each other when we can, and exchange phone calls.

Now, in the story line, he has survived the plane crash but has been paralyzed from the waist down. Tomorrow night he comes back into Sue Ellen's life. How long he stays depends on the scriptwriters.