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After renowned actress Rita Halloway insists on receiving fifty percent of the profits for her new film, The Story of Esther , Manning National movie studio president James Manning decides to launch an international talent search to find a new star to play Esther. The studio chooses four actresses to compete: Maria Antonelli, an Italian who is financially supported by her wealthy suitors; Vicki Dauray, a Parisian mother whose husband does not want her to work; Viennese theater actress Ina Schiller, whose new husband was recently killed in a car crash; and pretty American Kathy Conway, who wants to succeed as an actress to please her mother, a failed starlet. At the studio, the press whirlwind begins immediately, and Mike Snowden is hired to shoot the girls' screen tests. Mike, an aspiring director, gathers the women and is disappointed to discover that they have attended so many press shoots and parties that they have yet to read the script. When Kathy asks him why he is not going to direct the film, Mike turns away, and at a party that night, she apologizes for insulting him, and they share a drink. At the same party, playboy hotelier Spencer Farrington, Jr., romances Maria, while Vicki meets fellow test screen actor Tom Grant. Mike, knowing Ina's past, sees her alone on the balcony and urges her to talk about her husband. When she becomes too emotional to talk, he offers to drive her home, and Kathy watches them leave together. Along the way, Mike stops at the beach house of his composer friend, Johnny Pryor, and they find him passed out on the beach. As they put him to bed, Mike explains that Johnny is struggling to get over his marriage, which ended badly a year earlier, and an intrigued Ina offers to stay the night to help take care of Johnny. In the morning, Johnny wakes and gruffly accepts a cup of coffee from Ina, who shares his love of Gershwin compositions. After Mike urges Johnny to finish his latest assignment, however, Johnny orders them both out, but later offers Ina a recording of his music as an apology. The next day, rehearsals are interrupted by yet another press conference, during which Rita sashays across the back of the room to gain attention. Kathy watches Ina ace her rehearsal the following day, and then later bursts into tears when Mike criticizes her performance. To calm her, Mike takes her for a walk along the New Orleans movie set, and after he admits that he originally wanted to be a director to fulfill his father's unmet dreams, Kathy thinks about her own mother. Soon after at the wardrobe tests, Kathy overhears publicist Ted Larabee urge Mike to chose the actress he prefers and make her look the best on film. That night, after a party at Spencer's, Maria stays on and complains that everyone assumes she is fast. Tom brings Vicki home, where they are both surprised to discover her husband Henri and son Paul. Ted, who has assumed that Vicki is single, leaves quickly, after which she refuses to talk to Henri about why she is unhappy in the marriage. One night, Ina, Kathy and Mike visit Johnny and share a charming evening together. At the end of the night, Johnny shyly asks Ina to accompany him in his car, and she agrees. When he tries to kiss her, however, she pulls away in tears. The day of the screen tests finally arrives, and Kathy's bossy mother appears, demanding that everyone recognize her daughter's talent. Mike finds Kathy wandering alone by the prop riverboat, and after he suggests that she does not really want to act but is just trying to please her mother, she stalks away. Meanwhile, Maria is also nerve-wracked, and admits to a silent Spencer that she lied about having acting experience and wants only to get a contract so she will no longer have to seduce men to survive. Vicki, who has brought Paul to a train ride, does not know what to tell him when he begs her to return to France with him and Henri. To take her mind off the test, Johnny invites Ina on a picnic, but when he drives recklessly, the car almost crashes and Ina becomes hysterical. She runs sobbing to the beach, where he admits that he knows about her husband and that she has helped him heal from his experience with his ex-wife. Ina reveals that she plans to leave America, and Johnny warns her she must choose to keep living. He walks back to the car, but she calls out to him and runs into his arms. The next day at the studio, Manning informs Mike that he will soon let him direct his own film, and instructs him to notify the actresses about the outcome of the screen tests. Mike first sees Maria, who realizes she has not been chosen, and takes the news bravely. Spencer invites her to Las Vegas, but after she agrees, asks her if she loves him, and in response to her nod, promises to try to grow up for her. Mike then visits Vicki and Ina, who is talking with Johnny, to inform them both that they have earned studio contracts. Just then, Henri shows up to tell Vicki he is heading back to Paris, and although she hesitates a moment after he is gone, she finally races to him to tell him that her place is with him and Paul. Inside, Mike tells Ina that Rita has insisted on playing Esther herself, and Johnny soothes Ina's disappointment by playing his newly finished composition. Mike then runs into Kathy and her mother outside. Kathy at first reacts to the news of her failed test by accusing Mike of favoring Ina. After her mother insists she must be a star, Mike grabs Kathy and tells her not to listen, that she can be anything she wants, and confused, she runs away from both of them. Within days, however, Kathy has dispatched her mother back to Minnesota, and prepares to marry her true love, Mike.