powered by AFI
In 1915, in the small town of Tickerton, Kansas, Merton Gill, a naïve usher at Mr. Gashwiler's theater, is fired from his job for spending too much time watching movies and daydreaming of a future as a screen idol. In the theater office, Merton foils an attempted safe robbery by using crime-fighting techniques he learned from watching the films of his favorite movie star, Lawrence Rupert. Merton is hailed as a hero, and when Rupert's publicists read about him in the newspapers, they decide to bring him to Hollywood and use his fame to help revive Rupert's waning career. Immediately upon his arrival in Hollywood, Merton is taken to Rupert and dressed up for publicity photographs with the star. Merton is in awe of his favorite star, but Rupert ignores him, and, after the session, Rupert's men advise him to return home. Determined to become a star, Merton stays in Hollywood, adopts the screen name "Clifford Armitage," and begins looking for work. Following many failed attempts to break into film, Merton accepts a job as an attendant at the Goodfellows men's club. During his free time, Merton looks for work as an extra at the Mammoth Studio, and here befriends stunt double Phyllis Montague. Merton is eventually fired from his job at the Goodfellows club when he accidentally drops a bag of light bulbs and disturbs the quiet in the "Over 70" room. Phyllis helps Merton find his way to the set of Jeff Baird's comedy film, and Merton befriends leading actress Beulah Baxter. Merton then gets an assignment as an extra on director Von Strutt's film, but is soon fired for overacting. Rupert, meanwhile, has disappeared on another one of his drinking binges, and while studio officials search for him, Phyllis succeeds in getting his part changed to a comedy role and replacing him with Merton. Phyllis, who has fallen in love with Merton, knows that he does not wish to play comic roles, so she deliberately conceals the truth about the part from him. When Rupert's thuggish publicists learn that Merton played Rupert's part as burlesque, they threaten him with harm if the movie disgraces their client. Merton believes that he played a straight dramatic role, but at a screening of the completed film, he is shocked to discover that his performance has been edited to make him appear funny. Merton is offended by audience's laughter and becomes disillusioned by Hollywood until Phyllis convinces him that his true talent lies in comedy.