Mary Leona Gage

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Mary Leona Gage
Mary leona kaminer nee gage.jpg
Leona Gage, circa 1965
Born Mary Leona Gage
(1939-04-08)April 8, 1939
Longview, Texas, U.S.
Died October 5, 2010(2010-10-05) (aged 71)
Sherman Oaks, California, U.S.
Other names Leona Gage
Home town Glen Burnie, Maryland, U.S.
Height 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Title Miss Maryland USA 1957
Miss USA 1957
Beauty pageant titleholder
No. of films 3[1]
Miss Maryland USA 1957
Miss USA 1957
Miss Universe 1957
(Top 15)

Mary Leona Gage (April 8, 1939 – October 5, 2010) was an American actress, model and beauty queen who was crowned Miss USA 1957, the first from Maryland 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.

Early life[edit]

She was a toddler when her parents moved from Longview, Texas 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 married Gene Ennis, an airman in the U.S. Air Force and had their first child. Ennis was 24 when he met 13-year-old Gage.

When Gage became pregnant and attempted to write to Ennis after he shipped out, he never responded. A drugstore employee who was getting married suggested 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.[2]

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 their 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.[2]

She told the head of the modeling agency that she was married and could not go to the Miss USA pageant. She claimed one of the pageant officials told her to lie to the public. Pageant officials in Baltimore deny that they told her to lie.[3]

Both women flew to Long Beach, California, for the Miss USA pageant.[4]

Pageant scandal[edit]

In July 1957, Gage represented Maryland at the Miss USA pageant, and was crowned as the winner, the first winner from that state.

Pageant officials launched an investigation after rumors began to surface about her background and past. Gage lied to reporters or declined to comment when they questioned her, but a day later, she confessed the truth: she was actually 18, not 21, had been married twice, and was a mother of two young children.[5] Her mother and mother- in-law confirmed to reporters that the rumors were true. As being a wife and mother were clear violations of the contest rules, Gage was immediately disqualified and stripped of her Miss USA crown.

The crown and prizes went to the first runner-up, Charlotte Sheffield, Miss Utah. By the time the truth was revealed, it was too late for Sheffield 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: she was ejected, and Mónica Lamas of Argentina, who had placed 16th, replaced Gage as a semifinalist.[4]

It should be noted that the Miss Universe title ultimately was won by Peru's Gladys Zender, who 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 to unofficially use the higher age. Therefore, Zender was considered to be 18, having lived more than six months as a 17-year-old.

Aftermath and later life[edit]

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.[3] She also received hate mail.[3]


In 1957, she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada with her two sons. She worked as a featured showgirl at the Hotel Tropicana.[4] In early 1958, Gage divorced Ennis. She met dancer Nick Covacevich, who became 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 divorced Collatz. She experimented with LSD and was seen with John Drew Barrymore and Mickey Hargitay.[2] She also appeared in the 1964 exploitation film Scream of the Butterfly directed by Eber Lobato, co starring Nélida Lobato.[6]


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? Her picture appeared on the cover of the ghostwritten book. 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 singing and dancing in burlesque clubs,[2] married for the fifth and sixth times, and had another son. She eventually lost custody of her children. A comeback attempt in commercials was unsuccessful.[4] In the 1970s and 1980s she attempted 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.[4]


  1. ^ "Leona Gage". TV Guide. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Long, Unhappy Pageant of Mary Leona Gage". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c "Leona Gage, Miss USA For a Day, Dies at 71". Los Angeles Times. October 9, 2010. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Miss Maryland from 1957, Who Had Miss USA Title Stripped, Dies". The Baltimore Sun. October 10, 2010. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  5. ^ "Miss USA Winner Who Had Title Stripped Dies in LA". Yahoo! News. October 9, 2010. Retrieved October 11, 2010.
  6. ^ "Scream of the Butterfly (1965)". Retrieved 7 June 2018.

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