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When burlesque queen Doll Face Carroll auditions for impresario Flo Hartman's new Broadway show, he arrogantly turns her down and tells her manager, Michael Francis Hannegan, that Doll Face does not have enough class for a "legit" show. Mike, who is also Doll Face's boyfriend and the owner of the Gayety Theatre, where she works, is insulted by Hartman's attitude, especially as Doll Face is the hottest attraction in burlesque. After the irritating encounter with Hartman, Mike stops by a local drugstore and is given a free copy of a book by Frederick Manly Gerard. The book, which sold poorly despite receiving excellent reviews, sets Mike thinking about how to give Doll Face a veneer of culture, and he decides that she should write an autobiography called The Genius DeMilo . Doll Face is skeptical about the idea, but Mike assures her that he will hire a good ghostwriter. Mike then calls Gerard, who comes to the theater because he believes that Mike is offering him a job concerning a legitimate actress. The blue-blooded Gerard is amused by the idea of becoming involved with "burleycue" but still turns down Mike's offer. When Gerard meets the lovely Doll Face, however, he changes his mind and begins interviewing her. Chita Chula, Doll Face's friend and fellow performer, is suspicious about Gerard's interest in Doll Face, but Mike brushes aside her concerns. Mike does listen, however, when Chita points out that Mike's theater will suffer if Hartman is impressed enough with Doll Face's book to hire her. Mike decides to stage a legitimate musical of his own, starring Doll Face, and Gerard offers to supply the necessary funds. Time passes as the troupe rehearses the show and Gerard finishes the book. Gerard, who has fallen in love with Doll Face, tells her about his feelings, but she cares only for Mike. Mike, whose jealousy has finally been provoked, angers Doll Face when he declares that the book does not need to be published, as they have already received enough publicity from it. Although Mike's only motive is to separate Doll Face and Gerard, Doll Face assumes that he is denigrating the book and insists on going with Gerard the next day to see their publisher, Spencer Bennett. On the way to Bennett's island, however, the motorboat that Gerard has rented breaks down, and after a few hours of drifting, the couple swims for the shore. Mike frantically searches for Doll Face, and when he finds her asleep on the beach the next morning, he assumes that she and Gerard have spent more than an innocent night together. Mike's angry condemnation breaks Doll Face's heart, and they end both their professional and personal relationships. As two months pass, Frankie Porter, Doll Face's replacement, cannot attract the same crowds, and Mike is forced to close the theater. Meanwhile, Hartman's new show has a disasterous out-of-town run, and he asks Doll Face to star in a new show for him. Gerard suggests dramatizing The Genius DeMilo , which has become a success, and Hartman hires the now out-of-work troupe from the Gayety to put it on. During rehearsals, Doll Face becomes distraught by scenes recreating her romance with Mike, and breaks off her relationship with Gerard, who has proposed to her. Doll Face refuses to forgive Mike, despite Chita's efforts to reunite them, and Mike concocts a scheme to force her to talk to him. On the opening night of the new show, Mike files an injunction prohibiting Doll Face from performing by claiming that she is still under contract to him. When the infuriated Doll Face confronts him, Mike tenderly tells her that he only wanted to talk to her, and that he wishes her happiness in her new life. Won over by Mike's apologies, Doll Face helps him to trick Hartman into giving him a quarter share in the new show, as well as co-producer credit. Doll Face then goes on with her performance and smiles happily at Mike, who waits for her in the wings.