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After renowned violinist Paul Boray cancels his New York City performance, he tells Frederick Bauer, his manager, how much he wishes he were still the simple, happy child that he used to be: Paul first becomes interested in the violin as a child on New York's East Side in 1920 and chooses the instrument, rather than a toy, for a birthday present. Encouraged by his mother Esther, Paul becomes proficient and attends music school. During the Depression of the 1930s, the family grocery store suffers. Phil, Paul's older brother, who is out of work, resents the fact that Paul spends his time practicing instead of working. Wounded by his brother's comments, Paul gets a job with a radio orchestra with the help of his friend, pianist Sid Jeffers, but is fired when he objects to the station's policy of cutting compositions to fit into an allotted time. Paul then decides that he is ready to make his concert debut. Sid suggests that he attend a party at the home of socialites Helen and Victor Wright, where he might meet people who will help him financially. Despite Paul's surly attitude, Helen is intrigued by his talent and offers to help him become established as an artist. She introduces him to Bauer and pays for his first public recital. Afterward, Paul's family has a small party in his honor, which he misses because he is celebrating with the Wrights. Esther warns Paul not to become involved with Helen and reminds him about Gina, a fellow student, who loves him. With Helen's aid, Paul becomes a successful performer, and eventually, he and Helen fall in love. When Victor offers Helen a divorce, she hurries to the hall where Paul is rehearsing to tell him, but he refuses to interrupt the rehearsal to talk to her. Helen feels that his dedication is a rejection and, as she often does, eases her pain by drinking. Later, Paul and Helen are reconciled and make plans to marry. Helen then attempts to make peace with Esther, who reminds Helen about her three previous marriages and begs her to consider the effect her drinking and need for attention will have on Paul's career. One night, while Paul performs on the radio, a drunken Helen realizes that she will never mean as much to Paul as his music and walks into the ocean to her death. Paul is devastated and cancels his concert appearances, but now knows that he must go on with his music.