A young widow leaves the theater and pushes her daughter into theatrical success but not happiness in this adaptation of a novel by Bradford Ropes.
After her husband Fred (Russell Hardie) falls from the trapeze and dies, Kitty Lorraine (Alice Brady) has a baby. Comedian Ralph Martin (Ted Healy) asks to marry her, but she goes to live with Fred's parents in Boston. They don't like theater, and she agrees to conform. She works in a music store. After four years Ralph joins her in a song and offers her a job. Kitty is fired and then asked to leave the house after kissing Ralph. She leaves her daughter Shirley with her grandparents. Four years later Ralph gets them fired from the theater for being drunk, and they are divorced. Kitty gets a job, and at 14 Shirley (Maureen O'Sullivan) comes to live with her, taking dancing lessons. Shirley is hired in a show, and they travel around the country. In New York Kitty gives tickets to her friends to applaud, as Shirley is featured in "Beautiful Girl." Kitty blackmails their agent and signs with a top agent.
In Boston Shirley gets to know painter Warren Foster (Franchot Tone) while her mother is in the hospital with appendicitis. Her last night in Boston they spend together. Kitty reads Warren's letter to Kitty and goes to Boston. Warren tells Shirley her price is $10,000 for her "performance," walking out angry. Shirley opens "Dancing on a Rainbow," and Kitty tells her she is a hit. She admits she went to Warren's mother, while the upset Shirley says Warren wanted to marry her. Shirley gains the attention of the politician Al Dexter (Alan Edwards) and kisses him as Kitty watches. Dexter and his campaign manager Ricco (C. Henry Gordon) barge in on Kitty and make her take a boat, giving her the $25,000 she requests. On the voyage Shirley gets to know Lord Aylesworth (Phillips Holmes). She asks her mother for $10,000. She tells Aylesworth Kitty is a "stage mother," and he asks her to marry. Shirley doesn't want Kitty hindering her anymore, and she told Aylesworth she is not her real mother. Kitty cries, saying she gave Shirley success but not happiness. Kitty gets Warren's letters she has kept from Shirley, who tells Aylesworth Kitty is her mother and that she doesn't love him. Finally Kitty gives the letters to Shirley and says she wants her to be happy.
This story explores a frustrated and ambitious stage mother, who blocks her daughter's personal fulfillment to further her career. When her daughter disowns her as a mother, she realizes how wrong she has been.