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When Professor John Palmer of Midwest College goes to New York to attend stage plays to prepare for the theater arts classes he teaches, he sees one of his former high school students, Angela Gardner, performing in burlesque as "Hot Garters Gertie." During intermission, Angela invites him to her dressing room and tells him she has been saving money to attend college, where she hopes to begin a writing career. Encouraged by John, who assures her that a college education is the "inalienable right of every American," she decides to attend Midwest College. John agrees to read a script she has written, but after John leaves, a mink coat is delivered anonymously to Angela with an invitation to meet the donor at a hotel room. Thinking it came from John, she proceeds to the hotel room to return the gift, but finds there instead a lecherous tourist who calls himself "Daniel Brown." Having to act fast to escape his advances, Angela forgets to leave the mink, and when she tries to have it delivered to him, "Brown" has already checked out. Later, at Midwest College, Angela makes friends with Don Weston, the school's quarterback, which earns her the ill-will of "Poison" Ivy Williams, the leading lady of past college productions. As the college chairman, Fred Copeland, gives preference to athletics over other programs, John and his wife Helen live on a tight budget, so Angela rents a room from them. When John intimates that the annual college play, which he directs, is poorly attended, Angela suggests he drop the classics for something more modern. John, who is impressed with the play Angela has written, suggests they add a few songs and stage it. Later, before a football rally, several faculty members meet at the Palmers' house. Wealthy businessman Shep Slade, an alumnus ex-All-American football hero and Helen's former flame, shows up with Copeland. During the party, John asks Copeland for permission to put on a modern musical instead of a classic, but the chairman is reluctant until Slade suggests that the students preview some of the show for them. While Angela and Don perform a song from the show for the faculty, the jealous Ivy searches Angela's room and steals her scrapbook, which documents her dancing days. Slade's relentless bragging and flirting with Helen makes John uneasy and he sends Helen out alone when the faculty goes to dinner. Feeling inadequate, John drinks alone and is inebriated by the time Don and Angela return from the rally. Mistaking them for Helen and Slade, he offers to step aside, so that Helen will be free to be with Slade. Don and Angela urge him to fight for his mate, the way animals do. When Helen and Slade return, John attempts a physical altercation, but then accuses Slade of trying to hurt Helen for choosing John years ago. He offers to give her up, but Slade admits his flirting "was just a line," which upsets Helen. After a rehearsal for the show, Ivy confronts Angela with the scrapbook she has stolen, and threatens to tell the school newspaper unless Angela drops out of the show, leaving the lead role and Don for Ivy. As she wants the show to be a success so that John will get credit, Angela agrees to "sprain" her ankle and claims that she and Don are just friends. Meanwhile, Don is contemplating his love for Angela as he works out in the gym. Angela meets him later to tell him about Ivy's threat, but Ivy sees them together. By the next day the school newspaper, and then the nationwide press, has reported on Angela's "Hot Garters" days. Because of the bad press, Copeland wants Angela expelled and sends Slade to the Palmers' house ordering John, under threat of being fired, to speak at a meeting of the student body. Copeland has prepared a speech for John to read which announces that the show is cancelled and Angela expelled. However, at the meeting, John refuses to read Copeland's speech. Instead, he talks about discrimination against people in show business and how one kind of discrimination leads to other kinds. His speech makes him a hero in the eyes of the students, Helen and even Slade. As Copeland has refused to talk to her in person, Angela confronts him in his office and realizes that he is "Daniel Brown." As she still has the mink, she blackmails him. Later, Copeland grants John a full professorship and the show, titled "You've Got to Give Them What They Want," opens on schedule.