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As Rufus J. Klutz of the Sunshine Society of Southern California testifies over the radio to the joys of living in Los Angeles, an earthquake shakes the city and awakens reporter Toby Prentiss from a drunken slumber. Angry that Toby did not get the story, managing editor Edward J. Gaskell assigns him to replace the retiring "Miss Lonelyhearts" of the "Advice to the Lovelorn" column. Toby would like to quit, but he is bound by his contract to remain, so to get Gaskell to fire him, he writes frank, tongue-in-cheek advice intended to offend those respectful of conventional morality. The "broadmindedness" of his columns, however, attracts new subscribers and advertisers seeking the youth market, and Gaskell forces Toby to stay. Because Toby's fiancée Louise expects him to leave the paper and work at her father's garage, he tells her that he must remain and write the columns of his best friend "Gaskell," who, he says, is dying and has six motherless children. In the next few months, Toby's column is syndicated throughout the country, and manufacturers of perfume and brassieres pay for the Miss Lonelyhearts endorsement for their products. When Toby tells Louise that he must remain at the paper because "Gaskell's" children are now all sick, Louise, who has grown fond of her father's new helper Adolph, reveals that Gaskell's limousine is in her father's garage and returns Toby's engagement ring. After Kranz, the owner of the discount chain, "Kranz's Half-Price Druggee-Shoppee," makes a deal to pay Toby $1,100 a week for running beauty hints in his column so that people will buy Kranz's products, Toby buys Louise an expensive ring, but then returns from the garage with a black eye he received from Adolph. Louise, however, writes to Miss Lonelyhearts asking whom she should choose: the handsome, reliable, sober man who works in her father's garage, or the other one who drinks. Toby's reply, in print, that the one who drinks is drunk with love for her, affects a reconciliation, but when they celebrate with Toby's mother, she has a heart attack. After his mother's doctor tells Toby over the telephone to get a five-grain powder of caffeine citrate manufactured by Briggs Chemical Company, Toby purchases the medicine from one of Kranz's Druggee-Shoppees. After Toby gives his mother the medicine, Rose, a girl who allowed herself to be seduced by Kranz because of Toby's advice in the column, arrives brandishing a pistol. Louise then comes from the bedroom and tells Toby that his mother has died, and Rose reveals that Kranz counterfeits labels and trademarks and uses inferior quality medicine. After the district attorney says that he is powerless to do anything against Kranz unless Briggs initiates a civil suit, Toby, in his column, exposes Kranz and calls for a boycott of his products. The response to the column convinces Gaskell to have Toby write a new column under his own by-line to attack the various rackets that have begun since bootlegging ended. Toby, who plans to marry Louise that afternoon, goes to her apartment, where Kranz and two men with guns hide behind curtains. After federal authorities arrive and arrest Kranz for income tax evasion, Toby, with a completely bandaged head due to injuries he has sustained from a mistaken scuffle with police, finally weds Louise.