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When wealthy, confirmed bachelor Jervis Pendleton visits the orphanage of which he is a trustee, he admires the courage and spunk of orphan Judy Abbott when she talks back after being reprimanded. She states she has nothing to be grateful for and has hated the people who run the institution since another girl was chosen for adoption instead of her because she was considered too useful as a worker. Jervis decides to pay for Judy to go to college, but arranges to give the money anonymously, so that she will not be forced to exhibit gratitude. When she is told about the offer, Judy wants to see her benefactor, but she only gets a peek at his long shadow as he leaves. During the next two years, she writes to Jervis; not knowing his name, she calls him "Daddy Long Legs" because of the shape of his shadow and his cane. After she invites "Daddy Long Legs" to her class dance, Jervis' sister-in-law Paula encourages him to see how Judy is doing, and he goes to the school on the pretext of accompanying Paula to visit her daughter Gloria. Gloria introduces Jervis to Judy, who tells him that when she leaves college, she plans to live with "Daddy Long Legs" and take care of him, although she thinks he cares nothing for her as he has not answered her letters. Sometime later, after a dream, Jervis realizes that he loves Judy. He arranges for her to spend a vacation with Mrs. Semple, his old nurse, and Judy invites her friend, Sally McBride, and Sally's brother Jimmy to go with her. Jervis then arrives on the pretext of visiting Mrs. Semple. Although Jimmy, a Yale man, loves Judy, she is in love with Jervis, but feels her love is hopeless; she thinks that Jervis would like to be in love, but that something is holding him back. After Jimmy boasts of his success with women and implies that Judy is his girl, Jervis decides to sail for Europe and not acknowledge his love because he thinks he is too old and that she may mistake gratitude for love if he reveals his identity. At her graduation, Judy gives the valedictory address and looks for "Daddy Long Legs" in the audience, but cries when no older man greets her afterward. Jervis notices how more mature Judy is than before and admits to her that he came to Mrs. Semple's to tell her that he loved her, but that he left after he heard something about her. Because Judy becomes upset that he believed Jimmy, Jervis leaves. Later, Jimmy asks him for help in getting a job and reveals that Judy never loved him, but has always been in love with Jervis. Excited, Jervis rushes out. When Judy visits "Daddy Long Legs'" home to ask if she may marry, she finds Jervis there, and after he says that he came to ask "Daddy Long Legs" if he could marry her, he sends her in to see her benefactor. Jervis then sneaks around and hides in a large chair as she approaches. After using an old voice to fool her, he grabs her, and they kiss as her legs swing onto the chair.