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On the night that her possessions are being auctioned to satisfy her creditors, faded movie star Margaret Elliott's bumps into her agent, Harry Stone, and berates him for not getting her any work. Harry advises Margaret that she no longer has the "fresh, dewy quality" desired by moviegoers, but Margaret pleads with him to approach producer Joe Morrison, who is preparing a new film, The Fatal Winter , on which Margaret once held an option. After Harry demurs and counsels Margaret to ask her now-wealthy ex-husband, John Morgan, for money, as she had supported him during their marriage, Margaret reluctantly drives to the Morgan's mansion. There she is greeted by her devoted, teenage daughter Gretchen, and John's second wife, Peggy. After quarreling with Peggy, who stole John from her, Margaret reassures Gretchen that she is still a big star, despite the disparaging remarks of Gretchen's classmates. Margaret then returns to her apartment, where her landlady, the sympathetic Mrs. Adams, warns her that the rental agency is demanding her back rent. Waiting in her apartment are Margaret's parasitic sister Faith and brother-in-law Roy, on whom Margaret has lavished gifts and money throughout her career. When Roy asks for their monthly check, Margaret yells at him that she is bankrupt and orders them to leave. Margaret then grabs her Best Actress Academy Award and goes on a drunken binge. She is eventually arrested, and after spending a miserable night in jail, is bailed out by shipyard owner Jim Johannson. Margaret questions Jim about his actions and he replies that she once did him a good turn when she picked him from obscurity to co-star in one of her films. Jim, who was happy to leave acting for the Army, and now loves to work with his hands, escorts Margaret home, only to discover that she has been locked out of her apartment. Jim then takes her to his loft and tells her that with rest, she will feel better. When Margaret awakens, she discovers news of her arrest plastered across the front page and hurriedly calls Gretchen to assure her that it was just a publicity stunt. Margaret then tells Jim that she is broke because she invested her own money in three pictures that failed to break even. Margaret bitterly blames the "big companies" who failed to give her films "a decent release," but Jim muses that perhaps she destroyed her career herself. Later, when Jim remarks that Margaret tried to kill herself with her drunken driving, she insinuates that he was trying to buy her by bailing her out of jail. Although Jim admits that he was in love with her when they were filming their movie, he now accuses her of "being a career" rather than a woman. Margaret dashes out and at a nearby pharmacy, steals a bottle of perfume. Upset by her behavior, Margaret accepts Jim's advice that she find a "real" job. Summoning her acting skills, Margaret sails through an interview at a local department store and begins work as a saleslady. Her newly found confidence is shattered, however, when she overhears two gossiping customers complaining that the store should not have hired a "jailbird." Determined to regain her stardom, Margaret storms into Harry's office and demands that he contact Morrison. The producer agrees to see her, although she is dismayed to learn that he wants her to audition for the role of the frumpy older sister, rather than that of the heroine. The night before the test, Margaret rehearses her lines with Jim, and he questions her decision to play the part much younger than it is written. Margaret airily states that she knows how to handle the director, Keith Barkley, but the next day, he also instructs her not to play the part in such a coy, flirtatious fashion. Margaret insists on continuing with her interpretation, and that night, tells Jim that she is certain Morrison will offer her the heroine's role because her test went so well. The next morning, however, when Harry and Margaret visit Morrison, Margaret watches her audition reel and is horrified by how foolish she appears. Hoping to calm the overwrought Margaret, Harry takes her to his home to rest, although he has forgotten that he and his wife Phyllis are hosting a party that evening. When Margaret awakens, Phyllis encourages her to attend the party, and there Margaret meets screenwriter Richard Stanley. Stanley describes his latest script, which he believes would be perfect for Margaret, as it is about an actress who is so driven by ambition that she cannot accept the end of her career. When Stanley states that the lead character will be pitied because she will have given up "her birthright: the privilege and glory of just being a woman," Margaret runs off. She then picks up Gretchen and returns to Jim, who welcomes them both with open arms and gives Margaret a tender kiss.