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.
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 13 years old when she met 24-year-old Gene Ennis, an airman in the U.S. Air Force.
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.
When Ennis came back into her life in 1953, Gage, still only 14, 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.
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.
Both women flew to Long Beach, California, for the Miss USA pageant.
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. After Gage lied to reporters or declined to comment when they questioned her, she confessed the truth a day later: she was actually 18, not 21, had been married twice, and was a mother of two young children, which her mother and mother-in-law confirmed to reporters. 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 subsequently 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, as Gage had already competed in the Miss Universe preliminary competition and been announced as one of the Top 15 semifinalists. When Miss Universe officials were informed of the situation, Gage was ejected from the competition, and Mónica Lamas of Argentina, who had placed 16th, replaced Gage as a semifinalist.
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 (under the minimum age requirement), but pageant officials 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, meaning Zender was considered to be 18 (having lived more than six months as a 17-year-old). Source