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In the late 1800's, ambitious Paul Dreiser runs away from his Indiana home, leaving behind his mother, father and younger brother Theodore. Paul does not want to study for the ministry, as his father desires, and instead wants to be a musician. His first foray as an entertainer ends disastrously when Corbin, a con man, uses Paul, who has changed his surname to Dresser, as a front while selling fake jewelry. The angry townspeople catch Paul after Corbin disappears, and tar and feather him. Paul is then found and nursed by Mae Collins, a common but good-hearted singer in Colonel Truckee's Kickapoo Indian Remedy Extravaganza. Once Paul recovers from his ordeal, he joins the medicine show and reciprocates Mae's affections. Paul is thrilled by the appreciative crowds and the easy money, which allows him to buy many loud suits. One evening, as Paul is performing, a group of high-class entertainers from New York City, led by singer Sally Elliott and her producer, Fred Haviland, laugh at Paul's cheap clothes and exuberant performance. Sally likes one of Paul's melodies, however, and invites him to see her show. Paul and Mae go to New York, and although Paul laughs at Sally for revenge, he is impressed by the quality of her show. Determined to better himself and never be laughed at again, Paul leaves Mae and the medicine show for New York. Upon his arrival, Paul learns from music publisher Pat Howley that Sally wrote lyrics to accompany his melody and has included the song in her new show. Despite his anger, Paul listens to Pat's advice that an association with Sally would be good publicity. Paul soon writes a string of hit songs that Pat publishes and Sally sings in her shows. Fred, who is in love with Sally, is forced to step aside as Paul pursues her. Paul's success goes to his head, however, and he pays little attention to Sally and his songwriting in order to go out with his new group of society friends. Sally is especially concerned about the married Countess Mariana Rossini, and is furious to learn that Paul is to go with her on a cruise. Sally cuts up all of Paul's clothes, and he is arrested when he destroys her wardrobe. The couple reconciles after his release from jail, and Sally accepts Paul's marriage proposal. Later that night, however, Paul is tricked into going to Mariana's house, where she convinces him to stay for a night of innocent, if drunken, revelry. When Sally sees the countess dropping Paul off at his hotel in the morning, she assumes the worst and refuses to see him. She goes on tour with Fred, and as the weeks pass, Paul writes nothing but flops. Finally, music broker Wiley tricks Sally into accepting Paul's new song, "My Gal Sal," by claiming that an unknown Southern composer wrote it. The song is a huge hit, and soon after its debut, Sally and Paul are reunited.