Mark Tendler: Murder at the Crazy Clown

Memories of old-school wrestling often come with a warm, nostalgic glow. But the tale of Mark Tendler has a dark and deadly finale.

On the night of February 13th, 1990, retired pro wrestler Mark Tendler pulled into the parking lot of the Crazy Clown, an establishment that didn’t fit in with the family-friendly atmosphere of Riverhead, New York, to carry out his regular managerial duties.

It would be the last night he would ever do so.

The story of wrestler Mark Tendler is a dark and deadly one.
The story of wrestler Mark Tendler is a dark and deadly one.

Who Was Mark Tendler and What Led to his Unfortunate Demise?

Born in the Bronx in 1932, Mark Tendler started as a boxer, fighting professionals like Joey Maxim and Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson.

Tendler would switch to wrestling after deciding boxing lacked the physicality that he craved.

He told Newsday that he soon sought out George Tragos, a retired Olympic wrestler famous for training legendary NWA Champion Lou Thesz.

“George said, ‘You think you’re tough?’ He picked me up and slammed me around. He kept beating me up five days a week till I got the hang of it. Wrestling is a rough way to make a living. It separates the men from the boys. It’s like football without shoulder pads and helmets”, Tendler would say.

Tendler’s recorded wrestling career started in Hawaii in the mid-’50s, where he gained experience working under the name Prince Charming.

It’s also been said that Hawaii is where Tendler met the flamboyant Gorgeous George and became an in-ring valet for the influential legend.

Tendler began going by his full name and, toward the end of the decade, began competing for Capitol Wrestling, the precursor to the WWE.

After taking some time away from the sport, Tendler returned to the ring in 1974, admitting that he missed the excitement of wrestling, and watching Bruno Sammartino gave him the itch to return.

Tendler, living out of Hauppauge, New York, on Long Island, mostly stayed close to home with the World Wide Wrestling Federation. His return match was in his hometown Long Island against Pablo Valdez on the Nassau Coliseum’s inaugural wrestling show.

Longtime fan and historian Evan Ginzburg fondly remembers Tendler at the Nassau Coliseum in the 1970s.

“He was on most of the undercards and a beloved favorite,” Ginzburg states. “Tendler was that local boy made good, and we were proud of him.”

He would continue, “Always the face, while not a great wrestler, they’d put him in with top-notch veterans like Johnny Rodz, Davey O’Hannon, Joe Turco, and Bill White, where he’d often come out on top.

“Unlike some of the huge stars, he was approachable, friendly, and would readily sign autographs. He had a massive chest and shoulders; to us kids, he looked ten feet tall. We were in awe.”

“Many years later, when we read in the papers what happened to him, area fans were so saddened,” Ginzburg noted.

Even in his temporary retirement, Tendler maintained his physique through diet, exercise, and taking multiple vitamin pills daily.

On his return, Tendler explained to Newsday, “Wrestlers are at their peak at 35, 36. It takes you that long to learn your trade. And I will never let myself get out of shape. I believe the body is the temple of the mind. If I do well, I’ll stick with it. If not, I’ll get out.”

At the end of his career, Mark Tendler was a fixture in All-Japan Pro Wrestling, once again wrestling a combination of singles and tag matches with and against well-known stars.

While he may not have been a world champion or sold out any major venues on his name alone, Mark Tendler’s career as a preliminary wrestler spanned 25 years, and he was a fervent advocate for the sport.

His resume includes matches with notables such as Giant Baba, Haystacks Calhoun, Pat Patterson, Billy Robinson, Stan Stasiak, Masao Ito, Joe Blanchard, Kokichi Endo, Johnny Walker, and Andre the Giant.

Mark Tendler studying samples of another vocation. He was a lingerie salesman, too.
Mark Tendler is seen studying samples of another vocation. He was a lingerie salesman, too. [Photo: Newsday]

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His Life Outside of the Ring

Injuries and financial obligations began taking their toll, so Mark Tendler took off wrestling for some time in the 1960s and ’70s. At the urging of his father, Tendler became a full-time lingerie salesman.

“It’s a good living,” Tendler would tell Newsday. “I’m a novelty in the business, sort of a freak attraction. All the buyers say, ‘You ought to see the size of the guy who sells panties!'”

Tendler did not stay out of the limelight long. He achieved some amount of celebrity, acting in a handful of movies, TV shows, and commercials. He landed a supporting role in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie, “Hercules in New York.” Tendler also appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in February 1968.

While on wrestling hiatus, he also became a greeter at the landmark New York City restaurant and bar, P.J. Clarke’s. Tendler’s networking would help him land his biggest movie role in the Robert Duval film, “Badge 373”.

The 2012 book “Over P. J. Clarke’s Bar: Tales from New York City’s Famous Saloon” tells of an instance where Tendler got felt up by a well-known First Lady who frequented the establishment.

“As [Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy] passed by the bouncer, Mark Tendler, she asked him if she could feel the muscles in his upper arm, and he agreed,” author Helen Marie Clarke wrote.

Kitty Adams, the wife of Mark Tendler, in 1958.
Kitty Adams, the wife of Mark Tendler, in 1958. [Photo: The Orlando Sentinel]

Kitty Adams, Wife of Mark Tendler

Mark Tendler’s wife, Kitty Adams, was also a professional wrestler. Trained by The Fabulous Moolah, Adams debuted in 1958.

The meet-cute of Kitty Adams and Mark Tendler would fit nicely into any modern rom-com about two wrestlers falling in love. The couple recounted the story in a 1977 People magazine feature.

“One night in 1963, Mark was assigned to the same dressing room as Kitty Adams. ‘He demanded I move out,’ she recalls of their first meeting. Who won? ‘Kitty,’ Mark admits sheepishly. They were married within a year.”

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, described as a tough-as-nails, red-haired southern belle with a mean streak, Adams traveled the country as part of Moolah’s camp of “lady wrestlers.”

Adams, who also raced stock cars in her spare time, became an attraction in her own right, sometimes wrestling higher on the card than her husband.

She battled with and against the class of women wrestlers of her time: Joyce Grable, Vivian St. John, Mae Weston, and Leilani Kai.

Adams even challenged for the world women’s title against Moolah in 1978 on the same card that saw Bob Backlund defend the WWWF World Title.

In a sport notorious for putting a stranglehold on marriages, Adams believed that Tendler’s coaching was fundamental to her success as a wrestler and that her travel schedule helped the marriage.

“I only go away for two or three weeks at a time,” Kitty would tell The Daily Item in 1976. “We spend a lot more enjoyable time together.”

Kitty wrestled her last match in 1994 against Moolah. She passed away on December 17, 2020.

Referee Thomas Thamasoulis keeps Kitty Adams from fallen Ester Cartwell.
Referee Thomas Thamasoulis keeps Kitty Adams from fallen Ester Cartwell. [Photo: Al Witt, The Journal News]

The Crazy Clown

Riverhead is a town on the North Shore of Long Island known for its beaches, campsites, and stunning sunsets.

But at the intersection of Wading River Manor Road and Route 25, near the borders of Wading River and Calverton hamlets, lived the Crazy Clown, an establishment that didn’t fit in with the family-friendly atmosphere of suburbia.

Some patrons have shared stories about the quality of entertainment at the Crazy Clown, remembering it as, let’s say, not-so-great.

One recollection from the book “The Aircraft Designers: A Grumman Historical Perspective” tells the story of a stranded aerospace engineer whose car broke down outside the business.

“It was a bar called the Crazy Clown that featured ‘go-go dancers.’ It was only occupied by the female bartender and a single dancer that would not dance because ‘it was so d*** cold.'”

The relationship between Mark Tendler and the Crazy Clown varies based on who’s telling the story. Some say that he was a manager. Some say he was a bouncer. It’s also believed that Tendler had completed or was looking to complete a deal that would make him, at least, part-owner of the bar.

According to an article from the time of Tendler’s death, a change of ownership application had been filed with the State Liquor Authority in July 1989 to transfer ownership of the Crazy Clown from a William Witter to Tendler and his associates, Robert Ferro and Euguene Bianco.

Music fans may recognize Eugene Bianco as Gene Bianco, an accomplished jazz harpist and union contractor.

That filing was withdrawn two months later.

A new application listing Tendler and Ferro as the only owners without Bianco was filed on February 1st, 1990, just two weeks before Tendler’s death.

According to police, the Crazy Clown bar mainly had operated without any major issues since opening in 1973 – with one glaring exception.

In 1983, Yvonne Hogan, an employee of the Crazy Clown, was finishing a shift when Thomas Greene fatally beat her. Greene would be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

On the Tuesday night of February 13, 1990, Mark Tendler pulled into the parking lot of the Crazy Clown to carry out his regular managerial duties.

It would be the last night he would ever do so.

The boisterous, barrel-chested Tendler, 57, was found shot in the head in his car. He was flown by helicopter to University Hospital in Stony Brook, where he died two days later. As of publication, the killer has never been found.

The Crazy Clown would be closed only for one day before reopening again. However, the bar would soon cease operations and be torn down shortly later.

The Crazy Clown used to be situated in Riverhead, New York.
The Crazy Clown used to be situated in Riverhead, New York. [Photo: ringthedamnbell.wordpress.com]

Remembering Mark Tendler

Mark Tendler had his last major wrestling match on a 1979 WWF card against Tony Altimore at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Even in retirement, Tendler stayed close to the wrestling business by training hopeful new wrestlers.

Hardcore legend and WWE Hall-of-Famer Mick Foley credits Dominic DeNucci for breaking him into the business, but Foley also spent some time under Tendler’s tutelage.

In his book “Have a Nice Day,” Foley described Tendler’s training ring as “an amateur wrestling mat laid on a concrete floor with jerry-rigged ropes running along three sides of his garage walls.”

Also, in Foley’s first book, he wrote, “When I first showed up at the Tendler house, I almost immediately transitioned from trainee to trainer. Mark Tendler was a lot of things, but a polished wrestling technician was not one of them. I was pretty much the teacher. I would show holds and reversals while Mark answered the phone and ate sandwiches of astonishing size.”

In a special contribution for Bell to Belles, Foley credits Susan Sexton for teaching him what he learned from that experience. Foley also alludes to having a romantic relationship with Sexton in his #1 New York Times selling book.

“I’m practically ashamed that I have given Susan Sexton so little credit for her influence on me,” Foley wrote.

“The moment Sexton walked into that garage to train, the wrestling world changed in a very major and a very positive way for me. Everything she did was solid and believable.”

Other notable names to come through Tendler’s garage included The Sandman, The Dublin Destroyer, and “Broadway” Sonny Blaze.

Tendler also promoted independent wrestling shows in the Northeast – even some shows more fit for the Crazy Crown than the Nassau Coliseum.

Mark and Kitty co-promoted mud wrestling shows with young women competitors in bars and adult landmarks such as Plato’s Retreat, at one time the world’s most infamous swingers clubs.

“I have to try everything at least once. Anybody can wash the dishes and take care of the kids, but not everyone can drive stock cars and wrestle in mud,” Adams said about the venture.

The team soon learned that the mud was too much of a hassle to clean up and switched to oil.

Never the one to pass up a chance for self-promotion, in 1989, a year before his untimely death, Tendler was a recurring guest on John Arezzi’s “Pro Wrestling Spotlight,” a low-wattage wrestling radio show out of Long Island.

On one episode of the “Spotlight,” Tendler offered a free drink to any listener that wanted to patronize the Crazy Clown, as long as they were at least 25 years old and dressed “appropriately.”

In the months leading up to his death, Tendler was an in-studio guest promoting a Wayne, New Jersey charity wrestling show called Wrestlers Against Drugs, mocked with the acronym “WAD.”

One time, Tendler showed up with Black Venus, who was scheduled to wrestle Magnificent Mimi on the card.

Yet another time, Arezzi described him as showing up with an “entourage of Italian guys” that were likely his “financial backers.”

“I wish I could tell you [what was going on],” Arezzi said in hindsight to his co-host on Then & Now, a 2019 retrospective podcast about Arezzi’s original radio show.

“My show [was] being taken over by people I didn’t even freakin’ know.”

One member of Tendler’s entourage during that “Spotlight” appearance included – none other than – Gene Bianco, a man that Tendler showers with compliments.

He describes Bianco as a “driving force” behind the careers of Stephanie Mills, Richie Havens, Paul Anka, and Placido Domingo, and a manager for Julio Iglesias and Wynton Marsalis.

Bianco returned the favor, calling Tendler a close friend, and called the big “WAD” show a “humanitarian” effort.

This appearance was conducted around the same time Bianco’s ownership of the Crazy Clown was withdrawn.

Suffolk County Police Department Field Report from the night of the Mark Tendler shooting, February 13, 1990.
Suffolk County Police Department Field Report from the night of the Mark Tendler shooting, February 13, 1990. [Photo: Suffolk County Police Department]

Aftermath

Mark Tendler was briefly eulogized on “Pro Wrestling Spotlight” at the time of his death.

“Very unfortunate incident,” John Arezzi would say days after the murder. “A tragedy. He will be missed. Everyone was shocked and saddened about the passing of Mark Tendler.”

Arezzi didn’t hold back on his thoughts about the circumstances of the killing.

“It was reported to be a mob hit. When you’re operating in shady ways, you live dangerously. Unfortunately for Mark, he lived dangerously,” Arezzi expressed in 2020.

Arezzi is not alone in that thought. Mick Foley also described Tendler’s death as a “professional hit” in his book, “Have a Nice Day.”

The People magazine piece about Mark Tendler and Kitty Adams told the story of an ordinary couple that just happened to be wrestlers.

But Tendler knew that wrestling was what made them special.

“On the beach, you see a million grains of sand. As a wrestler, you’re like a pebble. You’re different,” Tendler told the publication.

Mark Tendler is laid to rest in Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton, New York.

And from his colorful life to his brutal death, Mark Tendler was indeed different.

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles that delve further into the “underside of the ring”:

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PW Wade is a freelance writer out of the Washington, DC area. He was a student of journalism who is looking forward to writing about the history of a sport he's loved since his youth. He can be reached on Twitter at @pwwade1 or by e-mail at pwwadewrestling@gmail.com.