Ernest Tidyman
Born(1928-01-01)January 1, 1928
Cleveland, United States
DiedJuly 14, 1984(1984-07-14) (aged 56)
London, England
Notable worksShaft
The French Connection
SpouseChris Clark

Ernest Tidyman (January 1, 1928 – July 14, 1984) was a Cleveland-born American author and screenwriter, best known for his novels featuring the African-American detective John Shaft. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the film version of Shaft with John D.F. Black in 1971.[1]

His screenplay for The French Connection garnered him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as a Golden Globe Award, a Writers Guild of America Award, and an Edgar Award.[2]


Tidyman's father was a journalist at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He began his career as a copyboy in Cleveland when he was fourteen, having dropped out of school in grade seven. He worked as a journalist for the next two decades in a number of cities, including a stint as editor of Diners Club magazine, and writing for The New York Times (1960-66), The New York Post (1957-60), male magazines and black newspapers.[3] In 1968 he wrote his first novel, Flower Power about hippies. He then decided to write about a black detective, Shaft.[4][5]

"Reading black fiction, you see that the central figure is either super hero or super victim, as in Styron's book. The blacks I knew were smart and sophisticated, and I thought, what about a black hero who thinks of himself as a human being, but who uses his black rage as one of his resources, along with intelligence and courage."[6]

His novel Shaft was read by Philip d'Antoni, who hired him to write The French Connection.

"We think he has the potential to be a better than average thriller writer," said director William Friedkin. "He writes people so that an audience can define characters quickly, but then complications begin to set in." Friedkin said he rewrote much of the script "But Tidyman's name will be first" on the credits.[4]

Friedkin's rewriting and credit grab annoyed Tidyman, who downplayed the director's contribution.

The dual success of Shaft and French Connection made Tidyman one of the top screenwriters in the business. "Tidyman from a standing start suddenly looks like a one man resuscitator for the movie as public entertainment," wrote the Los Angeles Times.[6]

Tidyman was one of the few filmmakers to speak up for the much-maligned James T. Aubrey, president of MGM. "Nobody ever lied to me at MGM or told me they were going to do something they didn't do," he said.[7]

However he was not happy with the final films, particularly Shaft, and decided to move into producing as well, establishing Ernest Tidyman Productions in 1971. [8]

"You have to hyphenate," he said. "If you've got an idea, you'd better write it, and then you'd better produce it, so you can control it. This town depends more on the men who write, on the storytellers, than on anybody else, and it doesn't begin how to know how to deal with them rightly."[6]

He wrote the screenplay for the 1973 film High Plains Drifter, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. Tidyman also wrote the sequel to Shaft, Shaft's Big Score, which appeared in theaters in 1972.

In 1974, he published Dummy, a non-fiction account of the story of Donald Lang, an accused deaf-mute murderer. It was nominated for an Edgar in the Fact Crime category.

He co-wrote A Force of One in 1979, one of Chuck Norris's earlier films.

In 1980, he wrote the teleplay for the TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, which he also had a hand in producing, which got him an Emmy nomination. For creating the Shaft books, he became one of the few white individuals to win an NAACP Image Award.

"I write for money," Tidyman said in a 1980 interview. He got up at six am and wrote for 12 hours a day.[9]

Tidyman summed up the three main elements of his craft as:

Drama, usually in the event itself, clarity of the telling, and most importantly, energy: the energy that I am able to infuse into the same words that are available to anybody who knows the language and its structure. If I can tell a story in a way that contains energy - a force - I think it's fairly certain it will be told in an interesting way.[9]

Personal life

Tidyman married Susan Gould, and fathered two children – Adam and Nicholas. In 1982, after Gould's death, he married former Motown soul singer Chris Clark, who had co-written the screenplay for Lady Sings the Blues (1972).

Tidyman died in 1984 in Westminster Hospital in London, England from a perforated ulcer; Tidyman was in London for a production meeting about a film to be made in Europe.[2][10]



Unmade scripts


  1. ^ "70S REWIND: JOHN GUILLERMIN'S SHAFT IN AFRICA". Twitch Film. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  2. ^ a b "ERNEST R. TIDYMAN, SCREEN WRITER, DIES AT 56". The New York Times. July 16, 1984. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  3. ^ Ernest Tidyman, Author of 'Shaft' Novels, Dead at 56: TIDYMAN: Writer Dies Spiegel, Claire. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 16 July 1984: oc_a3
  4. ^ a b c d e Ex-Newsmon Enters Into Hassle on Film Rewrite: Ex-Newsman in Rewrite Hassle Wolf, William. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 06 June 1971: o20.
  5. ^ Ventilating Shaft: Alex Hamilton meets the man who made black box office Hamilton, Alex. The Guardian (1959-2003) [London (UK)] 17 Feb 1973: 10.
  6. ^ a b c CRITIC AT LARGE: Ernest Tidyman Lifts the Curse Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 21 Jan 1972: g1
  7. ^ What's Going On in the Lion's Den at MGM?: What's Going On Warga, Wayne. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 26 Dec 1971: q1.
  8. ^ a b c d e Writer to Be Independent Film-maker Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 Aug 1971: f12.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g ERNEST TIDYMAN'S PEN MIGHTIER THAN MOST Spence, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 22 June 1980: t6.
  10. ^ Ernest Tidyman, 56; wrote 'French Connection' Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 16 July 1984: b7
  11. ^ She Wanted Wings: She Wanted Wings By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Apr 1971: D13.
  12. ^ Sayre, Nora (February 6, 1975). "Report to the Commissioner (1974) Film: Benign Principles". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2014. ((cite web)): Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  13. ^ a b Baker, Robert Allen; Nietzel, Michael T. (1985). "Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights : a Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922-1984". ISBN 9780879723309. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ After 'Midnight,' a Dark 'Day' By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 01 Mar 1970: 103.
  15. ^ a b News of the Screen: Glenda Jackson In Genet's 'Maids' Tidyman, Hancock Joining Talentss Joyce Selznick Sets Sequel to 'Claudine' Short Takes: RoleFor Burt Reynolds By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Apr 1974: 51.
  16. ^ CALL SHEET: Miss Swit to Costar in 'Bean' Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 Mar 1973: f19.