This was not the first disaster or near-disaster Williams had undergone while working on a movie. While filming Pagan Love Song, she had almost been dashed to pieces against some coral while filming a scene on an outrigger canoe, and she filmed the second half of On an Island with You on crutches after she sprained her ankle falling into a hole. The script called for her to fall in, but the set designers had forgotten to put any padding at the bottom. Her closest call, before Million Dollar Mermaid, may have been in Texas Carnival. Again, it was the fault of the set designers' carelessness. One sequence called for Williams to swim around her leading man's bed as he dreamed of her. The set designers built a replica of the room, painted in black for the best contrast with Williams's white negligee, in the pool. They even put a ceiling on it, which was where the danger lay: Williams entered the room through a trapdoor, but when she needed to come up for air, she couldn't find the trapdoor from the inside. Luckily, a prop man noticed her distress and pulled her out before she drowned.
Williams's career did not go well after Million Dollar Mermaid. She had been blamed when the 1954 film Jupiter's Darling flopped, even though the film had many faults, and in 1955, when MGM tried to assign her another film with a weak script, Williams packed up her things and walked out on her contract, forfeiting millions of dollars in deferred pay. She acted in four more films for other studios after that, but none were very well received. She also coordinated and participated in
some live shows, which had some success; one live show, in London, was sold out during its entire run.
Williams was also having problems in her personal life. Gage had mismanaged the couple's money, losing most of it and getting them into deep trouble with the Internal Revenue Service. The two eventually divorced in 1957. Williams later married the movie star Fernando Lamas, who had starred opposite her in the 1953 film Dangerous When Wet. The two met again in 1960, while Williams was producing the television special Esther Williams at Cypress Gardens, in which Lamas also swam. This special, which aired on Williams's birthday, was a huge hit: fifty-two percent of the televisions in the United States that were in use were tuned into it that night. Williams appeared in two more films in the early 1960s, but by the end of the decade she had settled down to be Fernando Lamas's wife and had disappeared from the public eye.
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