Leona Gage Stripped Of Title For Being Married
January 14, 2012 by staff
Leona Gage Stripped Of Title For Being Married, Mary Leona Gage (April 8, 1939 – October 5, 2010) was a beauty queen from Maryland who was crowned Miss USA 1957, the first, and so far, only woman from that state to capture the Miss USA crown. She was stripped of her title when it was revealed that she was 18, married, and the mother of two children.
She was a toddler when her parents moved from Longview to Wichita Falls, Texas. Her mother worked two jobs. Her father, paralyzed in an industrial accident, stayed home. She was 14 years old when she got married and had her first child. Her first husband was named Gene Ennis and he worked as an airman in the U.S. Air Force. Ennis was 24 when he met 13 year old Gage.
Soon, Gage became pregnant and attempted to write to Ennis after he was shipped out. He never responded. One day, a drugstore employee, who was getting married, suggested that she should get married with a volunteer groom. Gage agreed and they headed to Oklahoma for a double wedding. She married an airman named Edward Thacker. At her mother’s insistence, the marriage to Thacker was annulled within the week.
When Ennis came back into her life in 1953, the still 14-year-old Mary married him in Wichita Falls; they moved to Manhattan Beach, Maryland (near Severna Park). She had her second child at age 16. The marriage quickly unraveled. A doctor suggested that she get a job to ease her pain and prevent a nervous breakdown. She was working in a dress shop in Glen Burnie, Maryland, when she met Barbara Mewshaw, a part-time model. Mewshaw introduced her to the Walters Modeling Agency and helped her enter the Miss Maryland USA pageant. Gage wanted to be in the pageant in the hopes of working as a model. Once entered in the contest she won.
She told the head of the modeling agency that she was married and could not go to the Miss USA pageant. One of the pageant officials told her to lie to the public. Pageant officials in Baltimore denies that they’ve told her to lie.
The two women flew to Long Beach, California, for the Miss USA pageant.
In July 1957, Gage represented Maryland at the Miss USA pageant. As soon as she won the title, rumors began to appear. She lied to reporters when they questioned her. A day later, she confessed the truth: she was a mother of two and a wife. She had also lied about her age, before admitting that she was actually 18, not 21. Her mother and mother in law confirmed to reporters that the rumors were true.
Being a mother of two and a wife violated the contest rules. Gage was stripped of her Miss USA crown. Her crown and prizes went to first runner-up, Charlotte Sheffield of Utah. By the time the truth was revealed, it was too late for Miss Utah to replace her in the Miss Universe pageant. Gage had already competed in the Miss Universe preliminary competition and been announced as one of the Top 15 semifinalists. M?nica Lamas of Argentina, who had placed 16th, replaced Gage as a semifinalist. The Miss Universe title ultimately was won by Peru’s Gladys Zender. Zender also nearly lost her crown when she was revealed to be only 17, therefore under the minimum age requirement. Pageant officials, however, allowed her to retain her title as it was customary at the time in Peru for those that had lived past their sixth month during their birth year, they unofficially could use the higher age. Zender was considered 18 having lived more than 6 months as a 17 year old.
When news of Gage’s marriage broke, she was showered with television appearances. Her subsequent appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was one of CBS’s highest rated shows at the time. She also received hate mail.
In 1957, she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with her two sons. She worked as a featured showgirl at the Hotel Tropicana. In early 1958, Gage divorced Ennis. She briefly dated Frank Sinatra at the age of 19 and met dancer Nick Covacevich, her third husband. In 1960, Gage was charged with child abuse. In 1961, she filed for divorce from Covacevich and moved to Los Angeles, California, where she met her eventual fourth husband, an aspiring screenwriter, Gunther Peter Collatz.
In 1962, she appeared in the Roger Corman film Tales Of Terror. In 1964, she had a tiny role in the film A House Is Not A Home and got a divorce from Collatz. She engaged in LSD and was seen with John Drew Barrymore and Mickey Hargitay.
In November 1965 Gage was found unconscious in a motel room, overdosed on barbiturates. She was 26 years old. Her suicide attempt and drug possession led her to spend three weeks at Camarillo State Hospital.
In 1965 her first book was published, My Name Is Leona Gage, Will Somebody Please Help Me? It was ghostwritten and the cover had a picture of Gage. At the end of 1965 she starred in the film Scream of the Butterfly. The film flopped. After an unsuccessful movie career she enrolled in hairdressing school. In 1966 she began work in strip clubs, but not as a stripper. She sang and danced in burlesque clubs, married for the fifth and sixth times, and had another son. She eventually lost custody of her children. Her comeback attempt in commercials was also unsuccessful. In the 1970s and 1980s she tried work in mainstream acting roles.
Gage lived in Southern California from the 1960s until her death. While in her 50s, she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
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