John Shaft I is a fictional character created by screenwriter Ernest Tidyman. He was portrayed by Richard Roundtree in the original 1971 film and in its four sequels, Shaft's Big Score! (1972) Shaft in Africa (1973), Shaft (2000) and Shaft (2019), with Samuel L. Jackson portraying his son named John Shaft II in Shaft (2000) and Shaft (2019), and Jessie Usher portraying the character's grandson (named John Shaft Jr.) in Shaft (2019). The blurb on the paperback on which the original film is based states Shaft is "Hotter than Bond, cooler than Bullitt."[1]

John Shaft
Richard Roundtree 1973.JPG
Richard Roundtree as Shaft
First appearanceShaft
Created byErnest Tidyman
Portrayed byRichard Roundtree
OccupationPrivate investigator
FamilyJohn Shaft III (son)
John “JJ” Shaft III. (grandson)

Fictional biographyEdit


John Shaft's weapon of choice is a Smith & Wesson Model 36, Beretta 92FS or an M1911 pistol. Shaft is also a practitioner of several styles of martial arts that includes Shaolin Kung Fu, Wing Chun, judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Shotokan, and Kyokushin karate.

Shaft franchiseEdit

Novel seriesEdit

  • Shaft (1970)
  • Shaft Among the Jews (1972)
  • Shaft's Big Score (1972)
  • Shaft Has a Ball (1973)
  • Goodbye, Mr. Shaft (1973)
  • Shaft's Carnival of Killers (1974)
  • The Last Shaft (1975)
  • Shaft's Revenge (2016)[2][3] (written by David F. Walker)

Recurring relationships in the novelsEdit

  • Vic Anderozzi: A lieutenant of detectives with the New York Police Department, and Shaft's contact.
  • Rollie Nickerson: Owner of the No Name Bar which Shaft frequents, and a part-time actor.
  • Mrs. Klonsky: Shaft's Polish-American housekeeper.
  • Mildred: The phone operator who handles Shaft's answering service.
  • Ben Buford: A black revolutionary who grew up with Shaft.
  • Marvin Green: Shaft's accountant.
  • Helen Green: Wife of Shaft's accountant.

Comic book seriesEdit

The Shaft! comic book, was published by Dynamite Entertainment, written by David F. Walker and illustrated by Bilquis Evely; beginning in December 2014. New stories following young John Shaft's earliest adventures and adapted closely from the Ernest Tidyman novels.[4]

  • Shaft: A Complicated Man (2014) (writer: David F. Walker, artist: Bilquis Evely)
  • Shaft: Imitation of Life (2016) (writer: David F. Walker, artist: Dietrich Smith)

Film and television franchiseEdit

Film seriesEdit

Year Title Starring
1971 Shaft Richard Roundtree as John Shaft I
1972 Shaft's Big Score!
1973 Shaft in Africa
2000 Shaft Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft II (nephew; retconned to son)

Richard Roundtree as John Shaft I

2019 Shaft Jessie Usher as John Shaft Jr. (grandson; John Shaft II's son)

Richard Roundtree as John Shaft I

Samuel L. Jackson as John Shaft II (son, retcon)

Television seriesEdit

The television show ran from 1973 to 1974, with Richard Roundtree reprising the role of John Shaft. There were seven 90-minute movies, part of the New CBS Tuesday Night Movies, rotating with Hawkins, which starred James Stewart.

Cast and charactersEdit

List indicator(s)
  • A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
Character Film Television
Shaft Shaft's Big Score! Shaft in Africa Shaft Shaft Shaft
1971 1972 1973 2000 2019 1973–1974
John Shaft Richard Roundtree
Bumpy Jonas Moses Gunn
John Shaft II Samuel L. Jackson
John Shaft, Jr. Jessie Usher

John Shaft in other mediaEdit

  • Burger King utilized the Shaft character for promotion, and even somewhat parodied Shaft utilizing Shaquille O'Neal.
  • The USA Network's promo for their series Monk was modeled after the Shaft remake in 2000.
  • Geena Davis parodied the Shaft remake/sequel in promos for her short-lived television series, The Geena Davis Show.
  • In Season 2's episode "Ants in Pants!", The Tick featured the Tick meeting "Taft." On confirming that it is he, the man says "Darn right." This would be reprised in the Season 3 episode, "That Moustache Feeling".
  • A song entitled "Shaft in Greenland" appeared on The Dead Milkmen's album Soul Rotation.
  • In the TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith frequently references Shaft as one of his favorite film characters, believing the character to be a real person (Richard Roundtree himself guest-starred in two episodes of the show, playing two different characters.)
  • Broomhilda Von Shaft, a character in Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, was named to suggest a relationship to John Shaft. Stated Tarantino: "Her and Django will eventually have a baby, and then that baby will have a baby, and that baby will have a baby, and that baby will have a baby, and that baby will have a baby ... and one of these days, John Shaft will be born".[5]

Parodies in other filmsEdit


  • Towards the end of the film, during the final showdown, Shaft usually dons a leather outfit, fitted with a high-powered shotgun. (This was done in the 1971 movie and Shaft's Big Score!, but not in Shaft in Africa or the sequel/spinoff).
  • Shaft's Big Score! and Shaft in Africa featured a teaser that had no music, just a hook, establishing the plot, after which the opening credits with a vocalist song would show Shaft heading to the location of the crime. (The first film, Shaft featured Shaft heading to the scene of the crime with the famous Isaac Hayes theme on the soundtrack, or at least, heading towards where the plot would be established, but no teaser).
  • Ernest Tidyman's final Shaft book The Last Shaft (1975) depicted the death of John Shaft in the conclusion. Despite this, the same John Shaft, as portrayed by Roundtree, was featured in a cameo role in the 2000 sequel, in which he invites his nephew John, as portrayed by Jackson, to be a partner in his P.I. business.


The character has had a mostly positive response.[6][7][8]

Literary referencesEdit

  • The Detective in Hollywood, Jon Tuska, 1978 (ISBN 0385120931)
  • The World of Shaft: A Complete Guide to the Novels, Comic Strip, Films and Television Series, Steve Aldous, 2015 (ISBN 0786499230)


External linksEdit