Three generations of a show-business family go from Vaudeville to talking pictures.
Ted Hackett (Frank Morgan) and his wife Lulu (Alice Brady) perform on stage in the late 1880s and take care of their baby. Lulu is jealous of Ted seeing other women, but she refuses to send Junior (Jackie Cooper) to live in the country with her sister. Junior tells his cousins he works hard and is going to big in show business. Grown up, Ted Jr. (Russell Hardie) falls in love with the dancer Ann Ainslee (Madge Evans). The comedians Fields and Weber offer them roles in a play but have only small parts for Ted and Lulu Hackett. Lulu tells Ted they must accept, because it is Ted Jr.'s big chance. As the show opens, Ann agrees to marry Ted Jr.; but his parents' parts are cut down, and they give notice when young Ted's dancing is a success. Ted Jr. comes home drunk at 3 a.m. and his father warns him about liquor. Ted Jr. and Ann are starring in a show as they celebrate their first anniversary.
The older Hacketts have not changed their act in fifteen years and can't get booked. An older woman (May Robson) tells Ann to fight for her man, who has been seeing other women. Ann complains he is like his father; she runs out and falls to her death. Ted Jr. admits he played around and says he killed her. Soon Ted Jr. is fired for being drunk. His son Ted III as a youngster (Mickey Rooney) dances with his grandparents, reviving the act of the Three Hacketts, followed by silent pictures. Ted Jr. writes his parents that he has enlisted in the army; Ted is pleased, but Lulu hates the war.
Ted III (Eddie Quillan) breaks up the Three Hacketts when he gets a job in Hollywood. Soon his grandparents are visiting the movie star at his mansion in Beverly Hills. Wanda (Ruth Channing) and another beauty barge in, but Ted III makes them leave. A frustrated actor (Jimmy Durante) says the biggest star in Hollywood is a mouse (Mickey). The studio executive Mannion (Edward Brophy) comes looking for Ted III. His grandfather finds him drunk with Wanda and takes him home. He tells his grandson to go back to the studio, lecturing him, while Ted III calls him a pauper. Ted III gets his act together, and Mannion thanks his grandfather. In the final scene the grandparents watch Ted III dance with pretty women, as Ted nods off and Lulu cries.
This mildly entertaining family saga portrays the rewards and difficulties of show business. Social changes are shown in different generations even though the original couple ages without changing much.