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Just before Christmas at the Western National movie studio, publicity men Harry Johnson and Ben Melnick worry about the studio's recent layoffs and its temperamental, but profitable, child star Kathy O'Rourke. Photographer Billy Blair enlists Harry to help get a snapshot of Kathy, and although Harry almost charms the ten-year-old, she explodes in anger after he mentions her appearance in the upcoming Hollywood Christmas Parade. Back at his office, Harry learns from his boss, Matt Williams, that his ex-wife, famed magazine writer Celeste Saunders, is arriving to profile Kathy and has requested that Harry assist her. At home, Harry discusses Celeste's visit with his wife Helen, who lived with Celeste in New York after her divorce from Harry. He fears that Celeste will write a scathing exposé of the spoiled star. Their young sons, Tommy and Robert, or "Bo," overhear them, after which Bo asks incessant questions about "Daddy's other wife." In private later, Helen confesses her fears that the sophisticated Celeste will try to seduce Harry, but he assures her he loves her. Harry meets Celeste at her hotel bar, where she looks enviously at photos of his children. Although they spend a pleasant evening together, Celeste remains determined to expose Kathy, and when a disturbed Harry comes home late, Helen grows concerned. The next morning, Harry visits Kathy on her film set, and she agrees to sweet-talk Celeste in exchange for Harry convincing Kathy's guardian, her aunt Harriet Burton, to let Kathy skip the Christmas parade. Harry then brings Celeste to Kathy's mansion home, where the young actress performs her part admirably, but fails fully to persuade Celeste of her ingenuousness. Harry invites Celeste home for dinner, and when he drives her back to the hotel afterward, she admits that she regrets trading marriage and children for a career, and then offers Harry a job, at twice his current salary, on her New York magazine. Harry later informs Helen of the offer, walking out of the room before he can hear her analysis of Celeste as lonely and jealous. Harry goes to Kathy's house the next morning, but Celeste has already spirited her off to a fishing trip. While Harry paces nervously, Celeste and Kathy enjoy a delightful day together. Later, when Harry apologizes to Kathy for doubting her ability to be sweet, she snaps that she is only acting, but on the day Celeste must return to New York, she and Kathy both cry while saying goodbye. When Celeste asks Harry to accompany her to her hotel, he lies to Helen that he must spend time with Kathy. At home, however, Helen sees a miserable Kathy on television in the Christmas Parade, and realizes that Harry lied. At the hotel, meanwhile, Celeste flirts with Harry and encourages him to move to New York, but after he intercepts a phone call from an hysterical Kathy, he runs out of the room without explanation to Celeste. He finds the young girl walking to the hotel with a suitcase, furious that her aunt forced her to be in the parade, and planning to move in with Celeste. Harry brings Kathy home, where he learns that the studio has reported her kidnapped. While Harry frantically tries to think of how to return Kathy without being implicated as her kidnapper, Helen talks to the lonely girl, who cries that Celeste is the only one who loves her. Deciding to speak to Harriet in private, Harry rushes to her house, but leaves after hearing studio owner Donald C. Faber tell police lieutenant Chavez that any studio personnel found to be involved in Kathy's disappearance will be fired immediately. Back at home, Helen insists that the exhausted, exploited girl be allowed to stay for the night. In the morning, however, Kathy cannot leave the house without being recognized, so Helen arranges for her to stay, and by nighttime, Bo and Tommy have grown to adore Kathy, and have cut off her trademark pigtails to disguise her. While Lt. Chavez collects clues that implicate Harry, the family tries to conceal Kathy's presence from the many Christmas Eve callers, including Ben, whom Kathy overhears calling her a spoiled brat. After Tommy makes Kathy a sandwich and Bo gives her his favorite baseball cap, Harry takes her to the studio lot and helps her to sneak in, reminding her to wait until he has driven home to approach the guards. As soon as he drives off, however, they spot her, mistake her for a boy, and chase her behind a movie set's waterfall. Harry returns home to find a suspicious Lt. Chavez, who insists on searching the house, until a call informs him that Kathy has been found. Harry drives to Kathy's, where the little girl refuses to answer any questions in order to protect Harry. Although Harriet wants to continue questioning her, Celeste arrives and demands that Kathy be allowed to sleep. In the girl's room, however, Celeste spots Bo's cap, and later accuses Harry in front of Harriet of having kept Kathy at his house. As Harry confesses, Celeste realizes that Harriet has been using Kathy for her own advantage. When Harriet reveals that Harry told Kathy to act as if she loved Celeste, a heartbroken, Celeste threatens to write her originally planned exposé, until Harry points out that Kathy is the first person Celeste ever loved more than herself. The next morning, Harry comes downstairs to find Celeste and Kathy opening presents with his family, and Celeste tells him that she promised to cancel her story in exchange for Harriet allowing Kathy to spend more time with the Johnsons. While the happy group welcomes a confused Ben, Kathy's famous smile grows even brighter.