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In the 1910s, amateur performer Pearl White, who sings to her co-workers in a New York garment sweatshop, meets stage actress Julia Gibbs of the touring Shakespearean troupe, The Farrington Players, when she comes to pick up a costume. Julia gets Pearl an audition with Mike Farrington, the handsome, but pompous leader and star of the troupe, and Mike accepts her, although she cannot act. Always optimistic, Pearl accepts menial tasks until Mike finally allows her to star opposite him on the road. During a stage kiss, the two fall in love. While in an island play, Pearl, dressed in a sarong, catches cold after being drenched during a storm scene and ruins the act. Furious, Mike closes the show and humiliates Pearl, who, in turn, calls him a "two-bit four-flusher" and quits. Julia quits also and gets Pearl a singing audition with her agents. The agents offer Julia a bit part as a dowager in a motion picture being made by George "Mac" McGuire of Artcraft Pictures. Although Julia does not know it, her part requires that she receive a pie in the face, and when Pearl sees Julia humiliated, she enthusiastically defends Julia and leads her through set after set of pictures being filmed, disrupting the action, and finally furiously kicking a lion in the last set. McGuire is so impressed with Pearl's untamed energy that he casts her in the lion picture and decides to make her the star of a cliffhanger serial, The Perils of Pauline . At the end of each episode, "Pauline" faces death, but is saved at the beginning of the next episode. Pearl is an enormous success and gains nationwide fame as Pauline. Mike, meanwhile, has been reduced to running a carnival sideshow. Pearl gets him a job as her leading man, and during a publicity stunt, the couple gets stranded in a hot air balloon, where Mike proposes. McGuire excites the press with plans for Mike and Pearl's wedding and honeymoon without consulting Mike. As President Woodrow Wilson declares war on Germany, Mike sulks, his ego bruised, and breaks the engagement. After the armistice, Mike becomes a Broadway success, and the popularity of serials declines. Pearl gets a singing contract at a café in Paris, and on opening night, Mike arrives in Paris to declare his love. Pearl falls during a stunt on stage, however, and doctors warn her that she might not walk again. Pearl risks her health to meet Mike one last time, but, while still seated in the car, refuses his proposal. Julia tips Mike off that Pearl still loves him, and while she watches one of her old serials in a Paris picture house, Mike enters and carries her out of the theater, assuring her that her performance in the car was unconvincing as usual.