It took Jini Mount a long time to find good work as an actress. Sixty years, to be exact — not that she’s counting.
A sprightly feminist with piercing blue eyes and a wicked sense of humor, Mount moved in the early 1950s to New York City to work as an actress.
But, as she likes to say when discussing her unconventional past, she got sidetracked by other opportunities.
There were her days as a swimsuit model for White Stag, her gig as a vacuum cleaner spokesmodel for Lewyt Vacuums, her seven-year stint as a professional ice skater with “Holiday on Ice” and, of course, her career as a sculptor and painter.
In between all of this, Mount — a brazen tomboy from western New York, who studied English and drama at Ithaca College — raised two children, studied painting at the Art Institute of Miami, ran a gallery in Atlanta and, in 1963, despite her disdain for killing animals, competed in a women’s spearfishing competition in Seattle.
At 84, she’s embarked on more adventures than this reporter has notebooks. Yet, it was her adventures as a grandmother that inspired her latest and most taxing project — a movie.
The 20-minute short film, “A Lot in Common,” is Mount’s love letter to her 4-year-old grandson, Kian, a curly-haired preschooler whom Mount refers to as a male Shirley Temple.
To get it off the ground, she collaborated with Sarasota filmmaker Jacqueline Serrano, whose 2009 black-and-white love story, “Amoureuse Fantasy or Reality,” is one of Mount’s favorite short films.
Much of the script was pieced together using actual dialogue plucked from Mount’s interactions with Kian.
“What do you call a child who is wise beyond his years?” Mount asks. “Gifted? Talented? Unusual? Whatever it is, that’s Kian.”
Mount was so impressed with her grandson’s vocabulary that she began picturing his words in a movie format.
She began to picture the vignettes: a grandmother and a grandson playing games in the park, strolling hand-in-hand along the beach, mixing cake batter in the kitchen.
Much like her paintings, she saw something cinematic in ordinary real-life situations. She saw something touching and universal in the spontaneity of Kian’s words, something profound.
She saw herself as a girl — a girl who once lopped off all her hair so she could play outdoor games with the boys.
“I’m very old and he’s very young,” Mount says. “My mind is going out and his mind is coming in.”
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Anyone who’s familiar with the artist knows this is just Mount being self-deprecating.
Most Sarasota artists and art collectors know Mount, a white-haired spitfire, as the owner of the Celery Barn, the biggest and brightest neon-green art gallery in Towles Court.
A member of the Florida Artist Group and the Petticoat Painters, Mount is still as provocative and outspoken as she was when she was a 30-year-old art student in Hans Hofmann’s winter school.
“A lot of women from her generation would be more subdued,” says artist Beverly A. Smith, whose BAS Studio and Gallery operates out of the Celery Barn. “Not Jini. She’s an athlete. She’s a dancer. She’s theatrical. She’s funny. She was at my house last Christmas and my son had to roll up the rug so she could dance, because that’s what she does when she’s home. She rolls up the rug and dances.”
But even tireless eccentrics get exhausted from time to time.
Perched at a glass table in her Palm Avenue condo, Mount is a little less fiery than usual as she sips from a cup of green tea and nibbles on biscotti. After two weeks of filming, she’s exhausted.
Acting is more grueling than she thought.
“I wanted to be an actress,” she sighs. “Now that I know how difficult it is, I’m glad I didn’t pursue it.”
Her 18th floor condo unit, which faces Sarasota Bay, is home to some of her most beloved paintings, a collection that includes impressionistic images of elephants roaming the African plains, bicyclists crowding the streets of China and her granddaughter playing under a tree in the grass.
After spending more than a decade creating large public art sculptures, Mount says she’s content to just paint for a few hours every day.
“I think if I were younger, I’d have had a marvelous time in the movie business,” Mount says. “I’d have been fine just rolling with it.”
She mentions that she fell during the first day of shooting. She and Kian were at the Children’s Garden pretending to be pirates.
They were dueling with play swords, fake fighting over a hidden treasure chest when Mount jumped across a short bridge and hit her head on a log.
Two weeks later, she’s still sore.
“I guess I got so excited about being a pirate, that I forgot my age,” Mount says. “Then again, we did seven takes, so I suppose after that many duels it could have happened to anyone.”
DID YOU KNOW?
• Kian was born on Christmas Day four years ago in the Celery Barn. Jini Mount was so nervous about her daughter’s midwife-assisted birth that she refused be there for it. “I fainted dead away at the thought of her going into labor without a doctor or anesthetic,” Mount says.
• When Mount first moved 25 years ago to Florida, she taught figure drawing workshops out of a real celery barn in Venice. “When I heard about Towles Court, I decided that was the place I needed to be,” she says.
• Mount is currently writing a science-fiction novel about a planet on which all the women are named after their mothers.
• Before she moved into her Palm Avenue condo, Mount lived for a year with her husband on a boat in Venice. “I’m not the housewife type,” she says. “I don’t like to mop floors. Needless to say, I loved living on the boat.”
• Mount skied until she was 83 years old.
VIDEO: On the set of the Sarasota film "A lot in Common," with actors Mariana Gargaun and Joseph W. Palmerio. Palmerio plays "older Kian" –– Mount's grandson decades into the future. The footage was shot at Guy Peterson's architectural firm.
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