Ernest Tidyman
BornErnest Ralph Tidyman
(1928-01-01)January 1, 1928
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
DiedJuly 14, 1984(1984-07-14) (aged 56)
London, England
OccupationAuthor, screenwriter
Notable worksShaft
The French Connection
SpouseChris Clark

Ernest Ralph Tidyman (January 1, 1928 – July 14, 1984) was an 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]

Early life

Tidyman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Kathryn (Kascsak) and Benjamin Ralph Tidyman, a crime reporter for The Plain Dealer.[3] He was of Hungarian and British descent.[4] He began his career as a copyboy in Cleveland when he was 14, having dropped out of school in grade seven.

Tidyman enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1946 serving in public relations. He worked as a journalist and crime reporter 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.[5] In 1968 he wrote his first novel, Flower Power about hippies. He then decided to write about a black detective, Shaft.[6][7]


Shaft and French Connection

He later said about writing Shaft, "Reading black fiction, you see that the central figure is either super hero or super victim, as in [William] 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."[8]

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.[6]

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.[8] Tidyman was one of the few filmmakers to speak up for the much-maligned James T. Aubrey, president of MGM, who financed Shaft. "Nobody ever lied to me at MGM or told me they were going to do something they didn't do", he said.[9]


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.[10] Ernest Tidyman Productions was changed to Ernest Tidyman International, Ltd., in 1971 and back to Ernest Tidyman Productions in 1979. Tidyman also established Shaft Productions in 1972 to handle Shaft's sequels, Pilgrim Productions to handle Big Bucks, and Family Trouble Productions to produce an unmade film Family Trouble.[11]

"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 [...] to know how to deal with them rightly."[8]

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 adapted the book into a 1979 TV movie starring LeVar Burton.[12]

Later career

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.[13]

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."[13]

Personal life

Tidyman married five times. He had two sons, Ben (adopted) and Nathaniel, with his third wife Ruth Rayle Tidyman. With his fourth wife, Susan Gould, he fathered two children – Adam and Nicholas.[11]

In 1982, he married former Motown soul singer Chris Clark, who had co-written the screenplay for Lady Sings the Blues (1972).[14]

Tidyman died in 1984 in Westminster Hospital in London, England, following complications due to alcoholism.[2][15]


John Shaft novels



Unproduced screenplays

Television movies and mini-series

Television series


  1. ^ "70S REWIND: JOHN GUILLERMIN'S SHAFT IN AFRICA". Twitch Film. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. 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. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Aldous, Steve (2017). "Ernest Tidyman: The White Man Behind the Black Hero". Steve Aldous.
  4. ^ Aldous, Steve (October 5, 2015). The World of Shaft: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and Television Series. ISBN 9781476622231.
  5. ^ Spiegel, Claire (July 16, 1984). "Ernest Tidyman, Author of 'Shaft' Novels, Dead at 56: TIDYMAN: Writer Dies". Los Angeles Times. p. oc_a3.
  6. ^ a b c d e Wolf, William (June 6, 1971). "Ex-Newsmon Enters Into Hassle on Film Rewrite: Ex-Newsman in Rewrite Hassle". Los Angeles Times. p. o20.
  7. ^ Hamilton, Alex (February 17, 1973). "Ventilating Shaft: Alex Hamilton meets the man who made black box office". The Guardian. p. 10.
  8. ^ a b c Champlin, Charles (January 21, 1972). "CRITIC AT LARGE: Ernest Tidyman Lifts the Curse". Los Angeles Times. p. g1.
  9. ^ Warga, Wayne (December 26, 1971). "What's Going On in the Lion's Den at MGM?: What's Going On". Los Angeles Times. p. q1.
  10. ^ a b c d e "Writer to Be Independent Film-maker". Los Angeles Times. August 23, 1971. p. f12.
  11. ^ a b American Heritage Center (2013). "Inventory of the Ernest Tidyman Papers, 1934–1986". Rocky Mountain Online Archive.
  12. ^ Shales, Tom (May 26, 1979). "Mistreated 'Dummy'". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2022.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Spence, Betty. (June 22, 1980). "ERNEST TIDYMAN'S PEN MIGHTIER THAN MOST". Los Angeles Times. p. t6.
  14. ^ Clark, Chris. "Remembering Tidyman and His Work on 'Shaft'". Los Angeles Times.
  15. ^ "Ernest Tidyman, 56; wrote 'French Connection'". Chicago Tribune. July 16, 1984. p. b7.
  16. ^ A. H. WEILER (April 18, 1971). "She Wanted Wings: She Wanted Wings". New York Times. p. D13.
  17. ^ Sayre, Nora (February 6, 1975). "Report to the Commissioner (1974) Film: Benign Principles". The New York Times. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  18. ^ a b Baker, Robert Allen; Nietzel, Michael T. (1985). Private Eyes: One Hundred and One Knights : a Survey of American Detective Fiction, 1922–1984. Popular Press. p. 303. ISBN 9780879723309. ernest tidyman street people.
  19. ^ A. H. WEILER (March 1, 1970). "After 'Midnight,' a Dark 'Day'". New York Times. p. 103.
  20. ^ a b A. H. WEILER (April 21, 1974). "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". New York Times. p. 51.
  21. ^ Murphy, Mary. (March 23, 1973). "CALL SHEET: Miss Swit to Costar in 'Bean'". Los Angeles Times. p. f19.
  22. ^ Murphy, Mary. (September 20, 1975). "Kris Set for 'Star Is Born' Lead". Los Angeles Times. p. a8.
  23. ^ Lee, Grant. (October 25, 1976). "A Face That Launched a Career". Los Angeles Times. p. e9.