The Sad Life Of Leona Gage, Miss USA 1957
When beautiful young Leona Gage was crowned Miss USA in 1957, it seemed as though she was living a charmed life. She told pageant officials that she was a 21-year-old model from Baltimore, Maryland who hoped to pursue an acting career, but not long after the crown was placed on her head, rumors about Gage's life began to swirl until she was forced to give up her title. Looking back at her life from a 2019 perspective, we can see that Gage was a victim. Let's look at the sad life of Leona Gage, Miss USA 1957.
Pregnant at 14
Leona Gage was just 13 years old when she met 24-year-old Gene Ennis, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. She was barely 14 when she discovered that she was pregnant. By that time, Ennis had shipped out. She wrote him letters to inform him of her predicament, but he did not respond. The young teen was alone, pregnant, and desperate.
A One-Week Marriage
When Leona Gage confided her troubles to a co-worker, a young woman who was about to get married, the friend suggested that Gage just find another man to marry her. That would legitimize her pregnancy and give her someone to support her and the baby. She even helped her find an airman willing to jump into a quickie marriage. Fourteen-year-old Leona and the airman, Edward Thacker, drove from her home in Texas to get married in Oklahoma. Gage's mother was furious. She forced the couple to get an annulment one week later.
The Return of Gage's Baby Daddy
Not long after her first marriage ended, Ennis returned from his deployment and contacted the still-pregnant and still-14-year-old Leona. Gage and Ennis married, and she went with him when he was shipped to Maryland. Their marriage was a rocky one that only got more unstable after the birth of their second child when Gage was 16. The young teen was caught in a troubled marriage, lonely, and overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood. Her family doctor suggested she get a part-time job to get her out of the house a few days a week and give her a chance to meet friends.
Becoming a Model
Leona Gage took a part-time job at a dress shop where she met another employee who was a model. As a struggling housewife and mother, Gage was fascinated by the glamorous world of fashion modeling. Her new friend helped her get modeling gigs through the Walters Modeling Agency. They suggested she enter the Miss Maryland USA pageant to help her get more exposure and more modeling jobs. She won the title of Miss Maryland 1957, a prelude to the Miss USA pageant.
The Miss USA Rules
The Miss USA pageant has the same rules now as it did in 1957: Contestants must be unmarried, never married, and never had children. Leona Gage was twice married and twice a mother, a clear violation of the rule. She later stated that she made pageant officials aware of her situation and they advised her to lie about it if anyone asked her. The beautiful Leona won the pageant and was crowned Miss USA 1957 in Long Beach, California. The Miss USA organization began planning for Leona Gage to represent the United States in the Miss Universe pageant---that is until rumors started to swirl.
Ratted Out By Her Own Mother
After winning the Miss USA title, it was Leona Gage's own mother and mother-in-law who told reporters about Gage's marital status. An investigation was launched, and reporters began to ask Gage a lot of pressing questions. At first, Gage denied being married and having children. She was adamant that she was 21 years old. But within a few days, she came clean to the public about her two marriages and two children. She even confessed that she lied about her age. She was only 18 at the time.
Stripped of Her Title
Leona Gage was stripped of her title of Miss USA 1957, and the crown went to the first runner-up, Miss Utah. She was forced to withdraw from the Miss Universe pageant, which was already underway. All of the prizes she was awarded—money, jewelry, gifts, trips—were all taken back. Leona was unceremoniously sent back to Maryland to her tumultuous marriage and young children.
Her Sad Life Continued
Leona Gage soon divorced her second husband. To make ends meet, she sang in strip clubs and tried to get her acting career off the ground. She drank heavily, dabbled in drugs, and smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. She married again and again—a total of six marriages, all ending in divorce. She had five children, but she lost custody of two of them and became estranged from the other three. She suffered bouts of mental illness and attempted suicide. Towards the end of her life, when she reflected back on her life choices, she came to realize that she had been preyed upon by an older man who trapped her in a relationship that deprived her of her teenage years and a national title. Leona Gage, Miss USA 1957, died alone in 2010 after suffering from chronic lung disease for years.
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