Mark Tenser, President and CEO of Crown International Pictures, Dies

Mark Tenser - Publicity - S 2018
Courtesy of Crown International Pictures

His indie company found a profitable niche in the 1970s and '80s with exploitative flicks like 'The Pom Pom Girls,' 'The Van' and 'My Tutor.'

Mark Tenser, the savvy movie executive who transformed Crown International Pictures from an unremarkable independent film company into an exploitation powerhouse in the 1970s and '80s, has died.

Tenser died on New Year's Day, his company announced. He was still serving as president and CEO of Crown at the time of his death and did not want his age to be revealed.

His wife, Marilyn Tenser, who survives him, worked alongside him for more than four decades and produced several of Crown's most notable releases.

After Tenser took the reins in 1973, Crown targeted the underserved teen market that the Hollywood major studios had cast aside with movies that revolved around cars, young men and women and lighthearted sex. The low-budget flicks also played well at the drive-in.

Crown was named Motion Picture Company of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners in 1976. That year, it distributed the "teensploitation" classic The Pom Pom Girls; produced for less than $1 million, it brought in more than four times that, making it one of the highest-grossing non-Hollywood films of the year.

"Sex can be treated from the standpoint of young people with fun," Tenser once said.

Other films distributed by Crown in an era before the explosion of home video included the action comedy Superchick (1973); Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975), a blaxploitation pic; the martial arts film Death Machines (1976); The Van (1977), which cashed in on the customized van craze (and featured Danny DeVito); Van Nuys Blvd. (1979), about cruising around Los Angeles; Coach (1978), a basketball movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby; and the darker-than-expected Malibu High (1979).

Tenser was instrumental in directing the specialized ad campaigns for his movies, and he helped place Crown in the pantheon of successful indie film outfits alongside the likes of American International Pictures and New World Pictures.

Crown had been founded in 1959 by former RKO Pictures executive Newton "Red" Jacobs, who was behind the release of such titles as The Creeping Terror (1964), The Wild Rebels (1967), The Hellcats (1968) and a film that with material added later became known as They Saved Hitler's Brain.

Crown began producing its own films in the early '70s, and Tenser was promoted from executive vp to company president in 1973 when Jacobs moved up to chairman of the board. Meanwhile, his wife — Jacobs' daughter — became a vice president. (She was the one who came up with the idea and the marketing for The Pom Pom Girls.)

Crown remained prolific in the 1980s with releases like The Hearse (1980) with Trish Van Devere, The Beach Girls (1982), My Tutor (1983), Weekend Pass (1984), Tomboy (1985), Cavegirl (1985), My Chauffeur (1986), Hunk (1987), Deathrow Gameshow (1987) and My Mom's a Werewolf (1989).

Raised in Long Branch, New Jersey, Tenser excelled at throwing the javelin and discus in high school and played football on the varsity team. He graduated with a degree in business administration from the University of Miami in Florida, then came to California to work with his father in sales.

Tenser's first job at Crown was as a distribution manager, and his credits as a producer included Coach and The Hearse. He was an active member of the executive branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Survivors also include his sister, Dorothy, and several nieces, nephews and godchildren.

A funeral is set for noon on Sunday at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. In lieu of flowers, his family asks that donations be made to the N.P. "Red" Jacobs-Mark Tenser Memorial Scholarship Fund of Variety the Children’s Charity in Southern California.