By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: October 10, 2010
Born Mary Leona Gage in Texas, she was Miss Maryland USA in the 1957 Miss USA competition in Long Beach, Calif., a precursor to the Miss Universe pageant.
Ms. Gage told reporters after winning that she did not even have a boyfriend. “I want to wait until I’m 26 before I become seriously interested in the opposite sex,” she said, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Just a day later her background was exposed. Ms. Gage had been married twice, both times at age 14, and the first marriage had been quickly annulled. She had her second child at 16. She had also lied about her age: she was 18 but told pageant officials she was 21.
“I’m glad it’s over with now,” Ms. Gage said at the time. “I knew the Miss Universe rules forbade a married girl from entering the contest, but I thought I had a chance. I took it and lost.”
She said that she had entered the contest because she needed money, and that she had not expected to win. She was, she added, “most grateful I was Miss USA for a day.”
Ms. Gage took advantage of the attention that came with losing her tiara and made many television appearances, including a highly rated one on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
While winning the affection of much of the nation, Ms. Gage also received plenty of hate mail. “I think one half of the U.S. hated me,” she told The Sun.
After losing the trophy, prize money, trips and studio contracts that instead went to Miss Utah, the first runner-up, Ms. Gage pursued an acting career. But that did not take off.
She had a difficult life in subsequent decades. She had six failed marriages and lost custody of her five children, two of whom died before her.