Life at Harold Sparks' diner on Centinela Avenue in Inglewood frequently gets confused with art.
Four years ago, for example, Sparks named his restaurant the Serving Spoon after a diner featured on his favorite television show, the afternoon soap opera "All My Children." A couple of years later, when a patron named Monique Shannon happened into the diner, Sparks successfully pleaded with her to come to work as a waitress. The reason? A Monique also slings hash at the soap-opera diner.
Last week, life and art collided once more at the Serving Spoon. It went something like this:
The dashing Dex Dexter was working on his third slice of pumpkin pie when luscious Amanda Carrington pushed open the door.
"Hello, Dex," she cooed.
"Amanda," Dex breathed.
To a few who witnessed it, the exchange seemed pure schmaltz. To Sparks, whose heroes have long been soap opera stars, it seemed almost Shakespearean. Dex and Amanda, some might know, don't really exist except on "Dynasty," TV's popular prime-time soap opera.
With a couple of hearty servings of his specialty entree, catfish and corn bread, Sparks had lured the producers of the show to his diner and urged them to film Dex and Amanda's rendezvous there. The "Dynasty" producers, persuaded either by the concept or the catfish, decided to make a day of it in Inglewood. And Sparks, 41, seemed determined to bask in the limelight.
"This is amazing, the start of something big," Sparks said to no one in particular while posing for photographs with Michael Nader and Catherine Oxenberg, who portray Dex and Amanda on the show. (Sparks, to the amusement of those around him, never managed to learn the actors' true names, instead addressing them as "Hey, Dex!" or "Hey, Amanda!")
Sparks continued: "The Spoon is going to be just like Moldavia. Now everybody is going to know where it is." (Moldavia, "Dynasty" watchers know, was the make-believe setting for the show's season-ending cliffhanger last year.)
Before opening his diner in 1982, Sparks worked 18 years as an auto assembly-line manager in Cincinnati and more recently as a fashion model. He said the filming was arranged largely by chance. Invited by friends, who he said included singers Kenny Rogers and Gladys Knight, to attend the music industry's Grammy Awards last month, Sparks said he was introduced to several "Dynasty" production managers after the show.
"I invited them out to lunch last week, served them some catfish and hinted that the diner would make a great location spot," Sparks said. "I knew then that they liked my catfish, and now I guess you can see what they thought of my idea."
The filming began shortly after dawn at Inglewood Memorial Cemetery, where Blake Carrington, patriarch of the well-heeled fictional clan, paid his respects at the grave of his mother. By midday, about 115 "Dynasty" cast and crew members had crowded into and around the Serving Spoon to film Dex and Amanda's meeting.
For purposes of the show, Sparks' diner was renamed "Ring Number One," situated "somewhere in the Rocky Mountains near a pipeline owned by Dex's oil company," according to the script. It took about five hours to complete the scene, which assistant producer Ursula Alexander said would run about 2 1/2 minutes on the screen.
Alexander said "Dynasty" producers chose Sparks' restaurant because it has the look of a rustic mountain diner. It didn't hurt, she added, that the show had long ago planned to film the scene at the Inglewood cemetery, a couple of blocks away.
When the next morning broke, the lights had been taken away, Dex and Amanda had gone, Ring Number One was once again the Serving Spoon, and Sparks was back behind the counter serving his specialty.
"Dex and Amanda," Sparks boasted, "told me they had never had catfish as good as mine."