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John P. Merrick, the richest man in the world, is visited by the directors of his various enterprises, who are greatly agitated because Merrick has been hung in effigy by the employees of a department store that he owns. Taking matters into his own hands, Merrick, who holds the working man in contempt, dismisses Tom Higgins, the detective hired to investigate the disturbance. Then, armed with a card from the personnel manager describing his mission as "confidential," Merrick, who has not been photographed for twenty years, poses as Higgins and goes to work as a salesclerk in the children's shoe department, "the hotbed of discontent." On his first day, Merrick is demeaned by Hooper, the section manager, and meets Mary Jones, a fellow clerk who thinks that Merrick is a pathetic old man. Taking pity on him, Mary loans Merrick fifty cents and introduces him to Elizabeth Ellis, another clerk, who shares her lunch with him. After work that day, Mary invites Merrick to join her for dinner at the automat and then takes him to a secret meeting of the store employees led by her sweetheart, Joe O'Brien, who, Mary proudly confides, hung Merrick in effigy. During the meeting, as Joe discusses the lack of job security endured by the store employees, Mary stands up to relate the sad story of "Higgins," the elderly shoe clerk who had to borrow money from her to eat. After the meeting, Merrick returns to his mansion, where he instructs George, his butler, to bring a little girl to the shoe department the next day to buy shoes. When George and his "daughter" appear in the shoe department, Merrick, planning to show up Hooper, asks Mary which shoes are the hardest to sell. After Mary points to the high-tops that carry an employee bonus of twenty-five cents per pair, Merrick is about to sell George five pairs when Hooper steps in to take over the sale. Infuriated by Hooper's high-handedness, Merrick is about to tell off his supervisor when Mary gives him a pep talk and invites him to join her, Joe and Elizabeth at Coney Island the next day. That night at the mansion, Merrick tells George that Joe exerts an evil influence on Mary and he plans to break them up, but at the beach next day, when Merrick questions Mary about Joe, she admits that she is in love with him. As the day draws to a close, Merrick becomes separated from his friends and is unable to locate the bathhouse in which he left his clothes. Exhausted from wandering the boardwalk, Merrick offers to sell his gold watch to a clerk for telephone change. Suspicious, the clerk calls the police, who take Merrick to the station for questioning. When Mary finds Merrick at the station, they begin to question her, too. At that moment, Joe and Elizabeth arrive at the station, and after Joe lectures the police about individual rights and begins to recite the Constitution, the officers decide to drop all charges rather than face the long- winded Joe in court. The four then return to the beach, and as Merrick and Elizabeth pretend to dose in the sand, Mary proposes to Joe. When Joe rejects her proposal and announces that he is leaving New York because he has lost the struggle to organize a union, Mary calls him a coward. In frustration, Joe throws down his list of the four hundred employees he has recruited and leaves. Merrick retrieves the list from the sand and offers it to Mary, but she tells him to keep it. On the train ride back to the city, Elizabeth confides to Merrick that she could never marry a rich man, prompting Merrick to wonder aloud if she would care for the "real me." Merrick's statement makes Mary suspicious, and after he and Elizabeth reach their stop and leave the train, Mary finds Merrick's identification card on his seat and calls her friend in the personnel department to search his files. After learning that "Higgins" is a private detective in the employ of Merrick, Mary returns home and finds Joe waiting at her door to apologize. When Mary informs him that Merrick is a store spy and has Joe's list, Joe schemes to retrieve it. He instructs Mary to lure Merrick into the storeroom the next day, where he can confront the spy. Joe is arrested by the store detectives, however, and Mary is left to her own devices. After a boot falls from a shelf and hits Merrick on the head, Mary feels guilty, and as she attempts to revive him, the store detectives arrive and take them both to the general manager's office, where Mary accuses Merrick of being a "Benedict Arnold in sheep's clothing." Joe and Mary's opinion of Merrick changes, however, when he accuses Allison, the general manager, of poor management. When Allison agrees to talk to the employees' representative, Mary hands him the list of four hundred whom Joe represents. After taking possession of the list, Allison announces that they are all morons, and Mary snatches back the list which she and Merrick then tear up and swallow. When Allison threatens to fire everyone on the fifth floor, Mary uses the store's public address system to rally the employees to walk off the job and organize. As the store employees picket the Merrick mansion, Merrick sneaks out the back door but is seen by the workers, who hail him as a hero. After Joe offers to let him carry Merrick's effigy, Merrick calls them inside to a meeting, where, much to Joe and Mary's dismay, the store directors treat the shoe salesman with subservience. When the directors address the salesman as "Mr. Merrick," Mary screams and Joe faints. All ends happily as Joe and Mary, Merrick and Elizabeth are wed, and Merrick takes all his employees on a cruise to Honolulu. As they dance the night away in the ship's ballroom, the now-contented employees begin to sing "for he's a jolly good fellow."