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In the late 1920s, Eddy Duchin, a recent graduate of the Massachusetts School of Pharmacy, comes to New York City, thinking that band leader Leo Reisman has offered him a job as pianist with his orchestra at the Central Park Casino, an elegant society nightspot. After Leo informs Eddy that there is no job, a disheartened Eddy sits down at the piano and begins to play a sad lament to comfort himself. Eddy's playing attracts the attention of socialite Marjorie Oelrichs, who persuades Leo to hire him as an intermission pianist. Later, when the preoccupied diners ignore Eddy's performance, Marjorie coaxes her friends onto the dance floor to enjoy the music. Born to wealth and social stature, Marjorie is amused by Eddy's enthusiastic pursuit of fame and fortune. Eddy's zestful piano performances start to earn him acclaim, fueling his aspiration to rise to the upper class. When he is invited to a party given by Marjorie's aunt and uncle, Sherman and Edith Wadsworth, Eddy is certain that he had made his entrée into society until he learns that the Wadsworths invited him to entertain. Crestfallen, Eddy sits down at the piano to play, and Marjorie sits next to him to comfort him. As Eddy gains prominence as a society pianist, his unpretentious immigrant parents come to New York for a visit. Marjorie, who has been dating Eddy, meets the Duchins for dinner and, after the introductions are made, Marjorie casually asks Eddy to marry her. When a storm strikes on their wedding night, Marjorie confides that she has been tormented by a dream in which the wind takes Eddy away from her. At Christmas time, Marjorie gives birth to a son, Peter. The ordeal is too much for her, however, and in her final moments of life, Marjorie, unaware that she is dying, speaks glowingly of her love for Eddy. As Eddy, his heart breaking, speaks of their future together, Marjorie dies. Devastated, Eddy blames Peter for Marjorie's death and, after placing the boy in the care of the Wadsworths, leaves New York. Five years later, Lou Sherwood, Eddy's friend and personal manager, upbraids him for neglecting his son and accuses him of running away from Marjorie's death. At Lou's insistence, Eddy agrees to return to New York to see Peter. Father and son share a strained reunion in Central Park, after which Eddy bids his son goodbye once more. When the United States enters World War II, Eddy enlists as a radio operator aboard a warship. One day, when his ship docks for repairs, Eddy finds an abandoned, broken-down piano and begins to play. The music attracts a little boy, who sits next to Eddy. Eddy teaches the boy how to accompany him in "Chopsticks," and after an exuberant work out, the boy throws his arms around Eddy, arousing Eddy's longing for his own son. After the war ends, Eddy returns to New York, planning to make a home for Peter, but Peter is reticent around his father. Chiquita, a young Englishwoman who came to live with the Wadsworths after her family was killed during the war, has developed a strong bond with Peter and coaxes him into playing the piano for his father. When Chiquita tries to give Eddy advice about Peter, Eddy bristles and accuses her of meddling, but then relents and asks for help. Father and son slowly reconcile, and at a band rehearsal, Peter proudly plays a duet with Eddy. One night, after Eddy receives a standing ovation at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, his hand freezes in pain. Later, during a raging rainstorm, Peter awakens, screaming and climbs into his father's bed for comfort. Soon after, Eddy is diagnosed with leukemia, but tells no one but Lou. Chiquita, who has fallen in love with Eddy, becomes frustrated by his lack of affection and announces that she is returning to England. Eddy asks her to stay, but is afraid to express his love because of his illness. Tormented, Eddy runs off, but Chiquita follows and he finally tells her he loves her, but has only one year to live. Unfazed, Chiquita proclaims her love for Eddy and eagerly consents to marry him. After they are wed, Peter excitedly plans their future together, and Eddy, angry at his mortality, is unable to tell his son that he is dying. One day while in the park, Eddy informs Peter that he is going away for a long time. When Peter lashes out at his father for deserting him again, Eddy finally finds the courage to admit that he is dying. Sobbing in his father's arms, Peter promises to take care of Chiquita. That night at home, father and son play a duet together. When Eddy stops to embrace Chiquita, Peter continues playing until he breaks down in tears. Eddy then resumes playing, but soon his hands freeze in pain and Peter continues on, alone.