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"The Three Keatons," a poor vaudeville family consisting of Joe, his wife Myra and their seven-year-old son Buster, arrive in Fargo, North Dakota on a snowy winter's day in 1904, with dreams of becoming stars. Sixteen years later, however, they are still an opening act. Buster then decides to leave his struggling family and try his luck in Hollywood. Arriving at Famous Studios, Buster sneaks onto the lot, where he tries to demonstrate his comedic abilities to director Kurt Bergner. Though Kurt merely mocks the vaudevillian, Gloria Brent, a casting director, recognizes Buster's talent and convinces Larry Winters, the head of the studio, to take a chance on the brash young man. Though given only a bit part in his first picture, Buster steals the film and is soon offered a studio contract, which he refuses to sign unless he is allowed to direct himself. Winters reluctantly agrees, and in celebration, Buster asks Peggy Courtney, the studio's scheming leading lady, out to dinner. After she laughs at his poor table manners, Buster angrily drags Peggy out of the fancy nightclub, then takes Gloria out to eat at a bar that same night. There, he tells her about his life in vaudeville, how he began his career when he was only three days old and had appeared in his family's "knock-about" act ever since, receiving little, if any, formal education along the way. Later, following the great success of his film, The Criminal , writer-director-star Buster uses his newfound wealth to buy a gigantic thirty-two room Hollywood mansion, then breaks Gloria's heart by telling her that he has bought the estate for Peggy. In turn, Buster's heart is broken when the gold-digging Peggy instead becomes engaged to Duke Alexander Michael David of Bulgaria. Despite the unprecedented success of his film career, an unhappy Buster begins drinking. Wanting a share of his next film's profits, Buster mortgages his mansion in order to pay half the production costs of The Gambler . His film is a box-office flop, however, as The Jazz Singer opens the same night, effectively ending the silent film era. Now financially ruined, Buster is forced to make a sound picture under the studio's terms, which include Kurt as the film's director. Discouraged because his director is more interested in elocution than entertainment, Buster seeks his inspiration from the bottle and the film flops. Meanwhile, Gloria returns from the European trip she had taken to forget about Buster and soon becomes engaged to Tom McAfee, the studio's legal chief. On their wedding day, however, Gloria leaves Tom in order to bail a drunken Buster out of jail. The next morning, a hung-over Buster is informed that he and Gloria are married. Later, Gloria tells Larry that she married Buster in hopes of stopping his self-destructive behavior, but has had little success in that endeavor. Forced to live on his wife's meager savings, the unemployed Buster initially agrees to take a small part in a Famous Studios production, but upon seeing a photograph of himself from his glory days, the still-proud comedian walks out of the studio and directly into a bar. Refused service because he has used up all his credit, Buster goes for a walk and soon finds himself starring in a pickup baseball game, much to the delight of the neighborhood children and himself. The next day, however, Buster falls back into his alcoholic daze after borrowing ten dollars from a fan and getting drunk. In turn, Gloria leaves her husband, feeling her continued presence in his life is not helping matters. Finally forced to sell his mansion, Buster makes a final trip to Famous Studios, where he informs Gloria that he has stopped drinking and decided to go back into vaudeville, having finally realized it is making people laugh, not money or fame, that he enjoys. While performing his new juggling act in a vaudeville house in Fresno, California, Buster is greeted backstage by Gloria. Reunited with his wife, Buster quickly makes her part of his act, stating that he plans to change its name to "The Two Keatons." A pregnant Gloria, however, tells him to make it "The Three Keatons."