Comedian Eddie Foy marries an Italian woman and raises seven children on the stage with help from her sister and his agent Barney Green.
In 1898 Eddie Foy (Bob Hope) dances on stage in Chicago. He declines interest from attractive women because he wants to stay single. Madeleine Morando (Milly Vitale) finds her way into his dressing-room and suggests better makeup. Barney Green (George Tobias) comes to see Eddie, but Madeleine keeps dancing while her sister plays piano. As he is leaving, Eddie comes on stage and dances with them, doing comedy. Green offers a job to Foy and the two Morandos.
Eddie drinks champagne with Madeleine, who says she knows his secret. Barney tells them they will like working at the Schubert; but she knows nothing of this and leaves. Outside in the rain Eddie holds an umbrella for Madeleine. He sings “Nobody” with her help. She kisses him and signs the contract.
Barney comes to Eddie, who gives him the contract. Barney says he has been married fifteen years.
Madeleine and Clara Morando (Angela Clarke) board a ship for Italy. Eddie is playing pool and gets an Italian to translate a letter. He learns she is planning to get married.
Eddie goes to Milan and looks at dancers in the La Scala Opera House. He finds Madeleine and asks her if she and her sister will hook up with him. Madeleine says she is getting married, and she asks if Shubert can match that offer. Eddie decides to match the offer and asks her to marry him. She asks him to say it louder and then asks him why. He says he loves her, and she kisses him.
After a honeymoon in Capri they return. During a customs check Clara tells Barney that Madeleine is with child, but Eddie does not know. Barney tells Eddie he has to wait nine months, and Clara tells him about the child.
Eddie names him Bryan Lincoln Foy. He comes in and puts money by sleeping Madeleine and then heats a milk bottle and feeds the baby. He drinks beer and then spills the milk. Clara says they are pregnant again. Eddie calls the next child Charley.
On stage Eddie sings “I’m Tired.” Eddie stars at the Iroquois Theatre, and he takes little Bryan. During the show Bryan in the rafters sees a fire start. Eddie climbs up a ladder to rescue him. Eddie tells the audience to walk out slowly.
Eddie moves on to Broadway at Herald Square Theatre. A priest baptizes more children.
Ten years later Eddie takes his family for a drive on Sunday, and he shows them the house he bought in the country. Madeleine says it is what she wants. She sees a goat and thanks Eddie. He gives her an engagement ring. Eddie leaves to be M.C. at a banquet for George M. Cohan.
Madeleine and the children go to church. Eddie leaves on a train for Boston. Madeleine coughs and becomes ill. Clara takes care of her and asks her how she can stay with a man who does not care. Clara opens a letter and gives her a check for $485.
Eddie tries to call, and Barney says George Cohan (James Cagney) is giving a speech about Eddie, who receives an award from Cohan. They insult each other, getting laughs. Eddie shows he can dance. George gets on the table and invites Eddie to join him. George dances on the head table, and then Eddie tap dances. To the melody of “Mary” they do a soft shoe.
Eddie comes home late dancing and sees the priest at the door. He says his wife passed away that afternoon. He goes in, and Clara says he won’t have to come home at all anymore. He sees the little boys sleeping in one bed, the girls in another, and in another bed Bryan asks if he is passing through.
Barney drives up and sees the kids playing in the front yard. Barney goes in, and Eddie welcomes him to Kiddy Land. Barney says Eddie has not done anything for six months. Barney tells him to go to work and take the kids with him. He can put them on the stage. Barney says he booked Eddie Foy and the seven little Foys. Barney says the Cohans had a father. Eddie disciplines Bryan (Billy Gray) and tells them they are all going into show business with him. Eddie tells Clara to play the piano, or they will go without her. Eddie says they have friends and enemies in the family. Mary (Lydia Reed) and Madeleine (Linda Bennett) say they can sing and try. Charley says Eddie worked with them.
They take a train, and Eddie tries to attend to them. To please Madeleine he looks for a doll in the baggage car. They reluctantly go out on the stage, and Eddie makes quips. They dance, and Mary and Madeleine sing “Row, Row, Row.” Eddie finds little Irving and carries him off. Charley says a schoolteacher traveled with them, and they hear a speech by Patrick Henry. Clara shows Eddie that Charley is shooting craps. The children are dressed as Chinese, and Eddie sings “Chinatown, My Chinatown.” Eddie sees fireworks. Offstage Clara asks for a holiday, and Eddie says okay.
They perform their way back to the Palace on Broadway. Eddie learns it is during Christmas week and makes Barney leave. Clara says he promised. A man brings in Bryan for being in the chorus girls’ dressing-room. Eddie slaps him because he thinks he is supposed to. Clara quarrels with Eddie, and she says she is going back to Italy. Clara says goodbye to the children and tells them to pray for their father.
On Christmas Eve they take a train to New York, and Eddie buys stockings of gifts from Santa Claus. In the morning he finds the stockings in his berth. The children say they are working and can buy their own presents. He says he can work as a single.
They perform on the stage at the Palace Theatre. Clara attends with two officers from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Eddie sings “I’m the Greatest Father of Them All.”
In the Children’s Court the judge reads the law. Barney tries to defend Eddie, but he pleads guilty. Eddie says he taught his children what he knows. He hopes he can come and visit them. The judge lectures them, but the children answer him back. They say they like show business, and they are well educated. The judge realizes that the children are healthy. He says they cannot go on at the Palace Theatre, but Eddie looks for a loophole and shows that his girls can’t sing and that his boys can’t dance. The judge dismisses the case.
George has breakfast for Eddie, who decides to go to church. He goes to the wrong church and asks where the Catholic church is. He joins Clara and the children, and they find Irving hiding.
This biography of the vaudeville comedian and his family emphasizes the value of entertainment. James Cagney worked without a salary because Eddie Foy used to help feed poor actors. The ethical question of whether children should be made to work is answered by themselves when they show they have been educated to some extent.