Last season actor Jared Martin, as cowpoke Dusty Farlow, moseyed onto CBS' Dallas spread, seduced J.R.'s delectably dipso Sue Ellen, then disappeared in a plane crash. That would probably have ended the affair, if J.R. hadn't been shot—thereby giving Martin's flagging career a surprising plug. "I got a lot of fan mail," marvels Jared, who in fact became the prime suspect in London bookmaking shops as well as in the poll of PEOPLE readers. Those results were not lost on the producers. Mary Crosby was made the culprit, but Martin was signed to a new $100,000 Dallas contract, returning from the dead last week—albeit in a wheelchair and impotent. But only temporarily. "Most of my scenes have been in the bedroom with Linda Gray," Martin laments facetiously. "What the hell—it's a living."
Indubitably, and that's a change for the easygoing Jared, 36. Though sufficiently gifted to study with guru Lee Strasberg during his Dallas hiatus, Martin has spent much of his career playing "murderers and wackos" in second-rate series and movies. Once things were so lean for Jared and actress Carol Vogel (they wed in a "$29.98 Las Vegas special" in 1979 after living together eight years) they pawned all their jewelry for $10. "We were so hungry we ran across the street to a cafeteria," Carol laughs, "and a cop gave us a ticket for jaywalking." They are now slightly more settled in a one-bedroom house in L.A.'s rustic Topanga Canyon. On separate occasions they both have flipped autos off the canyon's steeply winding roads, but mainly they just busted up their romance—several times. "Basically, it's hard living in harmony when you're starving," says Carol. Gibes Jared: "It's hard living with an actress, period."
Life wasn't always so unstable. The son of New Yorker cartoonist Charles (C.E.M.) Martin and his painter wife Florence, Jared fondly recalls growing up on Manhattan's chic East Side and a "Tom Sawyer life" after his family moved to a farm upstate. Except for one thing. "I hated my piano lessons so much I used to deliberately fall out of the car en route," he recalls. "So my mother checked me into a theater workshop instead, and I knew I had found my life's work."
After graduating from Vermont's Putney School, Martin enrolled at Columbia University and found a roommate in "another prep school grad"—future director Brian (Dressed to Kill) De Palma. The friendship continued even after Jared finally ended his six-year college sojourn ("I gave my diploma to my mother because I figured she wanted it more than I did"). While trying to make it in Manhattan, the impoverished duo once roomed together in a former basement dog kennel. "It wasn't so bad once we shoveled it out," Jared claims. De Palma helped set the pattern for Martin's career when he cast him in his 1968 no-budgeter Murder à la Mod. "I played a mad photographer-murderer who liked to lick the blood off his victims' bodies," Martin remembers gleefully: "Brian used Hershey syrup for blood and paid me $35."
Meantime Martin's seven-year marriage to his college sweetheart (their 13-year-old son, Christian, lives with his mother) was ending. He met wife Carol in an acting class, and they migrated west in 1970, he says, "in a $50 Studebaker Lark, which turned out to be hot." Over the years he worked up from bit parts to passable TV roles (Get Christie Love!, The Rookies) and, fatefully, Dallas. "I didn't even know I'd been killed until I went into work one day and the secretaries told me I'd gone down in a plane crash," recalls Martin. "I thought, 'Well, it was nice while it lasted.' "
Now it's nice again, but Jared hasn't altered his cooled-out ways. Entertainment still means dinner with non-showbiz friends, and vacations are drives to Mexico. But liquidity could bring a change. "I want to have a billion dollars and own an island and, well, I just want it all," announces Martin, a gleam in his Newman-ously blue eyes. "I think," laughs Carol, "that Jared has been taking J.R. lessons."
Forget the plane crash: J.R.'s rival rides again