Ernest Tidyman’s novelisation of his screenplay for the film Shaft’s Big Score! was the third book in the series, with Shaft Among the Jews having been published in hardback six weeks earlier.
Production of the film had run from January to April 1972 and it was intended the paperback adaptation be published in May ahead of the film’s release. However, a disagreement over royalties between Tidyman and MGM (who had determined the split) along with his partners in Shaft Productions (who claimed others were also involved with screenplay development), led to the paperback release being postponed and it seemed the book may never be published. “MGM let it be known they wanted 25% of the royalties,” said Tidyman, “and my partners said they wanted a slice. I insisted no one was to get a piece of any novel, or would I let anyone do a novelization of my Shaft character. He’s a valuable entity – he’s been bastardized in films.”
Tidyman’s justification was that his novel was based on his own story and screenplay, but was also a separate entity from the final film, with additional characters (drawn from Tidyman’s early “Gang Bang” outline) and situations included. Lewis countered, “Ernest did not have the legal right to make the deal with Bantam without the permission of MGM or Shaft Productions. He was informed of this on numerous occasions.”
Tidyman informed The Pittsburgh Press: “I told them I would tear up the book, which represented six months’ hard work, and give the publisher back the money rather than give MGM money it had not earned nor in any way contributed to. I startled the hell out of them. They never heard of a writer who would give back money or tear up a book because of a principle. They were very upset.”
However, the legal advice was that Tidyman did not have separation rites for the character and hence the copyright for the novelisation stayed with MGM. An agreement was finally reached between Tidyman, Bantam and the studio to the effect that Bantam donated 2% of its royalties to Tidyman and an additional 2% would be paid to MGM and Shaft Productions, the latter of which Tidyman was also one-third shareholder.
The paperback novelisation was finally published on 7 August 1972, two months after the movie was released. In the UK, the book was simultaneously published by Corgi in paperback alongside Shaft in October 1972, again two months after the second film’s release in that territory.
* This text comprises edited and adapted extracts taken from my book The World of Shaft: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and Television Series © 2015 Steve Aldous.
Nathan, Paul S. ‘Tidyman’s Big Score’. Publishers’ Weekly. 22 May 1972. p44.
Nathan, Paul S. ‘And in this corner…’ Publishers’ Weekly. 29 May 1972.
Wolf, William. Ernest Tidyman ‘The white master of black violence’. The Pittsburgh Press. 14 January 1973.
Letter from Daniel Sklar of Sklar, Kornblum & Coben to Tidyman. 15 May 1972. (Box 14. Folder: Shaft’s Big Score 1971-83. Coll 09178. Ernest Tidyman Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming).
‘Compromise’ Re Tidyman Brothers Authors, Attys’. Variety. 14 June 1972.