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15 Shimmering Questions About Glitter, Answered

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Everyone has feelings about glitter. Unicorns bathe in the stuff. Six year olds dream about it. It’s essential to Pride parades, a weapon of social disruption and foremost in a pop star’s make-up arsenal. It’s also the stuff of cleaning nightmares. But where does glitter come from? Why does it exist? And how in the name of all that is good can you get it off the upholstery?

1. WHY ARE HUMANS SO ATTRACTED TO GLITTER?

Culturally, of course, we love shiny things, perhaps because they are associated with wealth and status: flashy cars, blinged out accessories, even solid gold toilets. But the roots of our attraction to All Things Sparkly goes deeper. Anthropologists have noted that many hunter-gatherer tribes equated shiny things with spiritual powers. Prehistoric man also had a habit of polishing his bone tools. But it seems to be more than just an “ooh, pretty,” phenomenon. Babies, after all, can’t tell a diamond-coated Rolex from a Timex, but new research shows that kids favor putting shiny objects into their mouths over matte materials. And it turns out, there’s an evolutionary reason for that.

According to researchers from the University of Houston and Ghent University in Belgium, our impulse for shiny things comes from an instinct to seek out water. The theory is that our need to stay hydrated has kept mankind on the lookout for shimmering rivers and streams. And thanks to natural selection, that’s left us with an innate preference for things that sparkle. 

2. HOW DID OUR ANCESTORS GET THEIR GLITTER ON?

For those who couldn’t get their mitts on gold, silver, or precious jewels, mica has been a saving grace. These naturally occurring sheets of silicate-forming minerals have been used to bedazzle objects ever since the Paleolithic era. Mayans, for example, chipped and mixed the stuff into pigments and slapped it onto 6th-century temples. Even today, you can find mica in luster paints. 

But mica was hardly the only option. Pyrite was used in Paleolithic cave paintings to produce a muted shimmer. Ancient Egyptians slipped ground green malachite, a copper carbonate with an iridescent effect, into their cosmetics, and there was also galena, a silvery mineral used in early eyeliners. 

By the 19th century, however, glitter was most often made from powdered or ground glass. It came in any color that glass came in and was often marketed under the name “diamantine.” As an 1896 article syndicated from The New York Sun explained, the ornamental effect was achieved by coating fabric in glue and rolling it in glass powder. Which sounds somewhat glamorous, but more dangerous. 

3. WHO INVENTED GLITTER?

Glitter as we know it today wasn’t invented until 1934. According to glitter lore, New Jersey machinist Henry Ruschmann accidentally invented the stuff after he took a load of scrap metals and plastics and ground it up very fine. Some reports claim that his invention took off during World War II, when American access to Germany’s glittering diamantine was cut off. While the origin story is murky, Ruschmann is a strong candidate: He did file for four separate patents for inventions related to cutting up strips of foil or film. And though he died in 1989, his company Meadowbrook Inventions is still in the glitter business today, peddling more than 20,000 different kinds of glitter. 

4. WHY DID THE MILITARY EXPERIMENT WITH GLITTER?

While cosmetics and crafts seemed to be the obvious uses, inventors also dabbled with the sparkling substance. The U.S. Air Force briefly tried spraying what amounted to glitter—they called it chaff”—from the back of warplanes. The idea was to create a cloud of false echoes to throw off enemy radar, making it virtually impossible for the enemy to determine the real target from a fake. The UK also used something similar in “Operation Window,” where planes released strips of aluminum-coated paper at timed intervals, swamping German radar screens with false signals. But the armed forces aren’t the only group to take advantage of glitter’s shimmering qualities: A significant number of glitter patents have also been filed for fishing lures. Fish, like humans, like shiny things.

5. HOW IS GLITTER MADE?

The making of glitter is fairly banal. Color is applied to a copolymer sheet, then a layer of reflective material, such as aluminum foil, is placed on top of that. Then, the now-fused film is run through a rotary cutter—“a combination of a paper shredder and a wood chipper,” according to a glitter maker on a Reddit thread—resulting in precision-cut pieces of uniform size. That size varies according to the need of the customer; Meadowbrook offers a teeny, tiny, microscopic .002-inch-by-.002-inch glitter, typically used in cosmetics or aerosol sprays. And while the shapes are most often hexagonal, they can be nearly anything you want: square, butterfly, stars, hearts. How much glitter these machines can produce in an hour is dependent on size, shape, and yield.

6. HOW CAN YOU CLEAN UP AFTER A GLITTER SPILL?

You can’t. Glitter sticks to stuff because of the static electricity generated between its small particles of metal or plastic and virtually every surface known to man or beast. Getting it off is often an exercise in futility and frustration. But if moving away isn’t an option, Real Simple says all is not lost. For tiled or hardwood floors, you can aggressively vacuum up drifts with the crevice attachment. For fabric surfaces, such as couches and other upholstery, a lint roller works best. Meanwhile, you can use a rubber-gloved hand to loosen glitter stuck in carpet and then attack with the vacuum’s upholstery brush. For your keyboard, try loosening the glitter with a shot of compressed air. Just be prepared: This is a war you will not win. There will always be a bit of sparkle somewhere.

7. WHAT IF THE GLITTER IS STUCK TO YOU?

If the glitter is on your person, you can unstick it with oil on a cotton ball. Beyonce’s make-up artist, who has coated the flawless star in craft glitter at least twice, says Scotch tape is another great way to remove it (although she still spots the lingering glitter in her make-up kit). 

If you’ve ever used glitter nail polish, you’re probably aware that it requires a chisel to remove. Pro-tip, via Glamour: You can use either a cotton ball soaked in acetone and secured around your fingertips with aluminum foil for as long as it takes to remove the stuff, or try a felt pad soaked in nail polish remover; evidently, the felt is rougher and more durable than just regular cotton. 

8. DOES GLITTER EVER REALLY GO AWAY?

No. And that’s a problem for the environment. 

Remember in 2014, when microbeads, those tiny, supposedly exfoliating beads that come in face washes, came under fire? The beads, made of plastic, are too small to be filtered out by water treatment plants, so they end up in lakes and rivers where they are eaten by unsuspecting fish. Eventually, environmentalists called for bans and several companies stopped using them. Glitter is similar. When it ends up in waterways and oceanic environments, it’s often mistaken for prey by marine life and ingested.

But since people still want sparkle, companies are working on ways to satisfy that need without harming the environment. Ronald Britton, a UK-based glitter manufacturer, has come up with Bio-Glitter, a certified compostable, biodegradable glitter that won’t clog waterways or harm marine life. Manufacturers on the consumption end, such as distinctively-scented soaps company Lush, have started using biodegradable glitter made from synthetic mica in their bath products. And if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable about all the fish your glitter habit has probably murdered, rest easy knowing that going forward, you can make your own non-toxic, animal-safe glitter using food coloring and salt.  

9. WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU EAT GLITTER?

Though eating glitter is ill-advised, most commercially available glitter is non-toxic and won’t hurt you in small amounts. Or, and this is rather more likely, it won’t hurt the small child in your care who has been gleefully shoveling orange glitter into his mouth. The major exception is glass glitter, which is used by hardcore crafters for a vintage sparkle and would be very bad if consumed; if you’ve swallowed glass glitter, go directly to the hospital. 

There is glitter that you are allowed to eat, but this glitter comes with its own warnings and can be confusing. Some shops sell “edible glitter,” which is typically made from colored sugar or gum arabic. There’s also glitter that can touch food but isn’t meant to be eaten. And you can find glitter that’s only intended to be on removable decorations (think princess cake toppers). Just make sure you read the labels, or you know—sparkle poo. 

10. WHY IS GLITTER SO GOOD AT SOLVING MURDER TRIALS?

Forensic pathologists love the stuff. They’ve been mounting a case for glitter’s usefulness since 1987, explaining that glitter’s steadfast adherence to persons and clothing make it “near perfect” as trace evidence. In fact, it’s been a star witness in several court cases. In 1987, for example, a Fairbanks, Alaska man, Michael Alexander, was convicted of the abduction and murder of 15-year-old Kathy Stockholm after glitter found on her body was linked to glitter found in his car and homes

11. HOW MUCH GLITTER DO WE ACTUALLY USE?

It’s difficult to say. Wikipedia claims that between 1989 and 2009, more than 10 million pounds of glitter were purchased, but at first blush, this fact seems suspicious. Since individual companies are hesitant to release sales and output figures, we’re left with anecdote and extrapolation: The Toronto Santa Claus Parade used nearly 155 pounds of glitter in 2011. If 200 cities and towns each bought that much for their celebrations, that would be around 31,000 pounds for one holiday event alone.

So given that, and coupled with the fact that, according to Vanity Fair, pop star Ke$ha spends thousands of dollars a month on glitter alone, 10 million pounds may be a fair estimate.

12. CAN YOU GET ARRESTED FOR GLITTER BOMBING?

Well, yes. Glitter bombing first became a thing in 2011, when Nick Espinosa, a gay rights activist, dumped a Cheez-Its box full of glitter all over erstwhile presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his wife. “Feel the rainbow, Newt!” he shouted, as multicolored sparkles enveloped Gingrich’s head. From then on, it was open season on what was billed as a non-violent yet effective form of protest: Most targets were conservatives, and most bombers were gay or women’s rights activists. But while glitter-bombing is more annoying than it is threatening, authorities took a dim view of the protest: In 2012, a Denver college student who tried to nail Mitt Romney with a fistful of blue glitter pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace; he only narrowly avoided being charged with a more serious crime of throwing a missile. And naturally, the people who were glittered were fuming: Mike Huckabee demanded glitter-bombers be arrested while Gingrich called his glitter-bombing “assault.”

Though “assault” seems a bit harsh, is glitter-bombing safe? Every year around the holidays, ophthalmologists warn that glitter can get into the eye and scratch the cornea; it’s also not terribly pleasant to inhale glitter.

13. WHAT ABOUT GLITTER AS A PRANK?

Clearly, there’s a market for glitter pranks. In January 2015, Matthew Carpenter, an Australian 20-something, started a website called Ship Your Enemies Glitter, which soon garnered headlines across the globe. After orders poured in and he found he couldn’t keep up with demand, Carpenter sold the business for about 85,000 Australian dollars. But glitterbugs can go overboard, too. In October of this year, an Akron, Ohio woman was found guilty of fifth-degree felony vandalism after she glitter-bombed her former supervisor’s office. When Samantha Lockhart, 25, resigned from her job at the Summit County Fiscal Office in January 2015, she spent her last day “decorating” her boss’s office with toilet paper, silly string, and fistfuls of multi-colored glitter. The glitter, which piled up in sparkly drifts about the office like evil festive snow, damaged office computers. She was recently sentenced to 18 months probation and a fine of $1000.

14. WHY ISN’T GLITTER ALLOWED IN JAIL?

In recent years, prison authorities have seen an uptick in people smuggling drugs, particularly Suboxone, into prison using glitter glue and crayons. How? Suboxone, which is used to treat the symptoms of withdrawal from opiate addiction but is also a powerful drug, can be made into a paste. That paste is then applied to paper, dried, and covered with something bright and distracting like crayon scribbles or glitter glue. Inmates lick the drug right off the page. Today, any letters containing glitter glue or crayon markings are immediately pulled out and destroyed (which seems terribly sad, given that crayon and glitter are the preferred mediums of small children).

15. HOW DID BODY GLITTER BECOME A THING?

Though glitter had been around for ages, you couldn’t really get away with wearing it out in public until the late ‘60s. Mod culture, Iggy Pop—who used to coat his body with peanut butter on stage before discovering glitter was better—David Bowie’s surreal turn as Ziggy Stardust, disco, and glam-rock all helped the stuff go mainstream. Sparkle, whether on shoes or eyelids, was in.

By 1984, Clairol had noticed. The company filed for a patent for glitter hair mousse—specifically, the “process for imparting temporary high fashion ‘glitter’ to hair”—and though this wasn’t the first or only way to apply glitter to your head, the game was changed. By the 1990s, body glitter was being sold at fine tweenager emporiums everywhere. (This patent, filed in 1997, is not the first for body glitter, but it does have this fantastic drawing to accompany it.) Glitter fever died down by the end of the decade. Or, at least, teenagers were no longer bathing in it before a night out. But that doesn’t mean that our love affair with glitter in all its sparkly forms is over: after all, we’re hardwired to love a bit of shimmer.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
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Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.

1. IT’S BASED ON A STAGE PLAY.

Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK THOUGHT HE WAS “COASTING” WHEN HE MADE THE FILM.

By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.

3. IT’S HITCHCOCK’S ONLY 3D FILM.

In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.

4. IT WAS HITCHCOCK’S FIRST FILM WITH GRACE KELLY.

Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.

5. IT TAKES PLACE ALMOST ENTIRELY INDOORS.

Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.

6. HITCHCOCK PERSONALLY CHOSE EVERY PROP.

Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.

7. KELLY’S WARDROBE GROWS DARKER ON PURPOSE.

Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.

8. KELLY WON A PARTICULAR WARDROBE ARGUMENT.

For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.

9. HITCHCOCK WAS SO NERVOUS ABOUT THE PIVOTAL SCENE THAT HE LOST WEIGHT.

Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.

10. HITCHCOCK MAKES HIS CAMEO IN A PHOTOGRAPH.

Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.

11. IT’S BEEN REMADE FOUR TIMES.

Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.

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