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Immediately after comic Ralph Martin announces to a vaudeville show audience that trapeze artist Fred Lorraine will perform for the first time without his wife Kitty, who is pregnant, Fred falls to his death while executing a difficult stunt. Months later, Kitty takes her newborn, Shirley, to Boston and, in spite of proposals from the sympathetic Ralph, moves in with Fred's conservative family. Although Kitty agrees to give up vaudeville and take a job selling music in a department store, she resents the oppressive attitudes of her disapproving in-laws and, after four stifling years, accepts Ralph's proposal to marry and return to vaudeville. At the urging of her mother-in-law, Kitty leaves Shirley in Boston, assured that there she will receive good care and education. On the road, Ralph's drinking binges eventually drive Kitty to divorce, and alone once more, she takes a job working in a New York talent agency. Once financially secure, Kitty sends for her daughter, who is now fourteen, and immediately enrolls her in a dance class. Two years of intense instruction pay off when Shirley is cast as a featured dancer in a touring musical revue. As Kitty vigorously protects her daughter from her overly amorous admirers, Shirley dances her way across America and returns to New York City a seasoned performer. To assure Shirley's success in New York, the ambitious Kitty packs the theater with acquaintances, then threatens the touring show producer with blackmail so that Shirley can safely break her contract and star in a Broadway-bound revue. During the revue's Boston tryout, Shirley sneaks away from the theater and returns to the Lorraine's old house, which is now occupied by artist Warren Foster. While Shirley acquaints herself with the kind and handsome Warren, Kitty is rushed to the hospital with appendicitis. Taking advantage of Kitty's hospital stay, Shirley sees Warren repeatedly and eventually spends the night with him. Once back in New York, however, Kitty intercepts a love letter from Warren and, without saying a word to Shirley, visits Warren's parents. Just before Shirley is to open in New York, Warren shows up in her dressing room and denounces her for bilking his parents of $10,000, the amount demanded by Kitty for Warren's apparent indiscretions. Although heartbroken by Warren's rejection and furious at Kitty, Shirley goes on with the show and is an enormous success. Then, to the delight of her mother, Shirley takes up with the backer of the show, Al Dexter, an aspiring politician. When, however, Dexter's cronies decide that the affair with Shirley will hurt Dexter's political profile, Kitty is offered $25,000 to sail with her daughter to Europe. On the boat, Shirley attracts the attention of Lord Ronnie Aylesworth, who quickly falls in love with her. Deeply embittered by her mother's meddling, Shirley tells the class-conscious Ronnie that the loud and boisterous Kitty is not her real mother, but an easily dismissed "stage mother." After accepting Ronnie's proposal, Shirley then reveals to Kitty her lie and calmly tells her that she will not be welcomed at the Aylesworths' home. Shocked into seeing her maternal selfishness, Kitty retrieves an apologetic love letter from Warren, which she had hidden from Shirley, and gives it to her daughter with her blessing.