By Scott Brown
Updated August 31, 2006 at 06:49 PM EDT

Like many a great American, Glenn Ford was Canadian. The square-jawed actor (who died yesterday at age 90) made his reputation playing stolid, laconic military types and Western heroes, the bread-and-butter of the ’50s leading man. His awards tally includes a Golden Apple for Most Cooperative Actor and a Golden Globe for Pocketful of Miracles. It doesn’t include an Oscar — not even a nomination — and this, more than anything, has contributed to the image of Ford as a classically underrated Hollywood workhorse, a guy often described as the best thing about the largely forgettable movies he toplined.

But Ford liked to work, and work he did: sometimes three, four movies a year in his prime. His best-known roles involved neither cowboy hats nor Navy destroyers: His smoldering pas de deux with Rita Hayworth in 1946’s Gilda helped cement his position as a go-to lead, and his thick-skinned high-school teacher in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle demonstrated his credibility in “important” movies. He was also one of those mid-century Hollywood Iron Johns who could ennoble your film with a effortlessly authoritative performance, then put a roof on your house, re-pane your bay window, and wire your kitchen: His father, a Welsh-Canadian railway exec, gave Ford the OK to pursue acting if he first learned some useful trade-skills. Long after he was a success, the actor enjoyed fixing his home A/C and electrical systems. He designed his own house (with a 900-pound artificial sun suspended over a glassed-in atrium) and hung on the wall the Nazi death sentence he earned during WWII for training French Resistance fighters.

Really, who else could’ve been Superman’s Earth father?

addCredit(“Glenn Ford: Everett Collection”)