Ernest 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.
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. In 1968 he wrote his first novel, Flower Power about hippies. He then decided to write about a black detective, Shaft.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
"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."
"I write for money," Tidyman said in a 1980 interview. He got up at six am and wrote for 12 hours a day.
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.
However some of Tidyman's novels were written in collaboration with another writer, novelist Philip Rock.
Ernest Tidyman was born in 1928 to Catherine and Benjamin Ralph Tidyman, a crime reporter for The Plain Dealer. Tidyman married 5 times. He adopted two sons, Ben and Nathaniel, with his third wife Ruth Rayle Tidyman. With his fourth wife, Susan Gould, he fathered two children – Adam and Nicholas.
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By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 01 Mar 1970: 103.
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By A. H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Apr 1974: 51.
^CALL SHEET: Miss Swit to Costar in 'Bean'
Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 Mar 1973: f19.
^Kris Set for 'Star Is Born' Lead
Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 20 Sep 1975: a8.
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Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Oct 1976: e9.