powered by AFI
In New York City, in the mid-1910s, Bert Kalmar has reached the height of his career as a vaudeville performer with his dancing partner and sweetheart, Jessie Brown. In between shows, Bert composes music and secretly indulges in another favorite hobby of his: performing magic acts. Bert and Jessie are in love, but when Bert proposes marriage, Jessie insists that they wait until he is through being "everything in show business all at once." Billed as "Kendall the Great," Bert occasionally performs magic acts in disguise at a Coney Island theater. One day, while preparing for his magic show, Bert meets Harry Ruby, a song plugger who plays the piano at the Coney Island theater. Harry is instructed by his boss to serve as the magician's assistant, but he bungles his job and turns the Kendall the Great show into a comic disaster. Bert is angered by the fiasco, but becomes distracted by a more pressing problem when he discovers that his agent, Charlie Kope, and Jessie, who were in the audience, now know about his moonlighting. Bert later tries to incorporate some of his magic show themes into his act with Jessie, but she flatly rejects his ideas. Bert and Jessie continue performing their vaudeville act until the day that Bert injures his knee in a backstage accident. Much to his distress, Bert is told by a doctor that his injury will preclude him from dancing for at least one year. Hoping that Bert will now have more time to devote to her, Jessie suggests that they resume their plans to marry, but Bert rejects the idea. Jessie then decides to leave Bert and tour on her own. A short time later, at Al Masters' music library, Bert hears a tuneful song being played on a piano in the next room and asks to meet the composer. The composer turns out to be Harry, and although Bert remembers his first disastrous encounter with him, he eventually forgives Harry and begins writing songs with him. Following their first song, "My Sunny Tennessee," Bert and Harry create one hit song after another, but Bert grows increasingly depressed over his separation from Jessie. One day, Harry tries to help Bert overcome his depression by taking him on a trip to Buffalo, where Jessie is performing her show. Bert and Jessie resume their romance, and Jessie returns to New York with Bert, pledging to support his songwriting partnership with Harry. Harry, meanwhile, begins a romance with Terry Lordel, a sultry singer who is merely using him to further her career. Realizing that Harry is blind to Terry's scheme, Bert decides to protect him from an inevitable heartbreak by sending him to Florida to spend time with his favorite baseball team, the Washington Senators. When Harry returns to New York, he discovers that Terry has left him for another man. Harry is heartbroken, but Bert forces him to overlook his love troubles and concentrate on his work. A short time later, Harry reads a play that Bert has written and certain that it will fail, secretly sabotages the financing to protect Bert. Soon after the opening of the stage show Animal Crackers , for which Harry and Bert have contributed songs, Harry falls in love with Eileen Percy, a beautiful actress. One evening, at a party, Bert discovers the truth about Harry's involvement in the sabotaging of his play, and demands that they break off their partnership. Bert moves to Hollywood and becomes a successful screenplay writer, while Harry continues to compose songs. Harry eventually marries Eileen, who, with help from Jessie, secretly arranges a reunion of Bert and Harry on Phil Regan's radio show. Bert and Harry commemorate their reunion by singing a medley of their songs, and Bert surprises Harry at the end when he sings Harry's composition "Three Little Words," to which he had secretly written lyrics.