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Jazz-loving millionaire playboy Jervis Pendleton III is persuaded by his stern assistant Griggs to leave his New York mansion to accompany a U.S. State Department fact-finding mission to France. While on an isolated road to Paris, the group's car breaks down, and Jervis walks to find a phone. He soon comes across an orphanage, and while waiting for the matron, watches with amusement as a young woman makes a game out of serving the childrens' meagre lunches. Upon meeting Madame Sevanne, the orphanage matron, Jervis inquires about the girl, Julie Andre, and learns that she has lived there her entire life. Madame Sevanne laments the fact that the eighteen-year-old leads such a dull existence, and that her suitors are boring farmers. When Jervis reaches Paris, he meets his old friend, stodgy embassy attaché Alec Williamson, and asks how to adopt a French orphan. Alec is horrified when middle-aged Jervis mentions that his intended orphan is an eighteen-year-old young woman, although Jervis swears that he only wishes to send her to America to receive a proper education. Alec agrees to make the arrangements on the condition that Jervis' sponsorship of Julie remains anonymous, and Jervis agrees, then enrolls her in Massachusetts' Walston College, to which he is a large contributor. Jervis himself drops off the papers for Julie, who is overwhelmed to learn of her good fortune, but does not catch a glimpse of her mysterious benefactor, whom Madame Sevanne says is named "John Smith." The children, who saw only his shadow, describe him as tall and thin, with legs like a daddy longlegs spider. After her first exciting day at Walston, during which she meets her roommates, Sally McBride and Jervis' niece Linda, Julie begins her first letter to her guardian, for she has been instructed to write to him once a month. The letter soon arrives on the desk of the down-to-earth Miss Prichard, Griggs's secretary, and although they are bemused by Julie's salutation of "Dear Daddy Longlegs," Griggs tells Miss Prichard to file the letter without showing it to Jervis. As the months pass, Julie is disappointed not to receive any replies to her letters, but continues to write and work hard at her studies. After two years, however, Julie expresses her disillusionment in her latest letter, and both Prichard and Griggs, who by now eagerly anticipate Julie's letters, are upset that Jervis shows no interest in her. Griggs decides to show the letters to Jervis, who had completely forgotten about "his" orphan. After reading Julie's letters, Jervis decides to attend a spring dance at Walston on the pretext of visiting Linda, whom he has not seen since she was an infant. At the college, Jervis is delighted to see Julie, who has matured into a poised young woman. Julie confides in Jervis that she would like to care for her guardian, whom she assumes is elderly, after graduation, but is afraid that he no longer has any interest in her. Then, much to the chagrin of Sally's brother Jimmy, who is infatuated with Julie, Jervis stuns the other students by skillfully dancing with Julie to a wild rock and roll number. By the time he returns to New York, Jervis has fallen in love with Julie, although he still has not told her that he is her "Daddy Longlegs." Griggs is suspicious when Jervis offers to "help" Jimmy by obtaining a job for him in far-off Bolivia, but Jervis insists that his motives are pure. A few months later, Jervis invites Linda and Julie to spend the weekend in New York, and is is momentarily nonplussed when Julie arrives unaccompanied by Linda, who is ill. Julie sets Jervis at ease, however, and the couple spends the evening dancing at the city's glamorous nightclubs. The next morning, Jervis purchases an engagement ring for Julie, but when he goes to her hotel to have breakfast with her, their conversation is overheard by Alec, who coicidentally is staying in a suite with a balcony adjoining Julie's. Alec misinterprets the couple's conversation and assumes that Jervis has reneged on his agreement. Alec calls Jervis to his rooms, and although Jervis is outraged by Alec's accusations, he concludes that Alec is right about his and Julie's age difference, and that he must forget about marrying her and bring Jimmy back to the United States. Julie, who has fallen in love with Jervis, is devastated when he telephones with news that he is leaving the country immediately on business. Julie returns to Walston and there begins a scrapbook of the newspaper reports of Jervis' adventures with glamorous women. Despite her emotional pain, Julie does well at school and soon is ready to graduate. Desperate, Julie sends one last letter to her guardian, begging for advice. Miss Prichard, unable to bear Julie's heartbreak, insists that Griggs help her to trick Jervis into returning home and reuniting with Julie. On graduation day, Miss Prichard attends the ceremony and congratulates the bewildered Julie, who cheers up upon hearing that they are going to New York so that she can finally meet her guardian. In New York, Jervis is angry about Griggs's trick and insists that he pretend to be Julie's guardian, until he learns from Linda that she is to marry Jimmy, whom she has always loved and that Julie has been miserable since Jervis' departure. When Julie arrives at the Pendleton mansion, she is ushered in with a group touring Jervis' art collection, and upon seeing the painting of Jervis' grandfather as an elderly man, realizes that he is the "Daddy Longlegs" she had envisioned. Thrilled to be reunited with Jervis, Julie accepts his marriage proposal, and the beaming Griggs and Prichard watch as the couple shares their first kiss.