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A Local Life: Leona Gage, 71; dethroned beauty queen

In this photo taken July 20, 1957, just days after she had become Miss USA but quickly stripped of the title, Leona Gage Ennis poses at National Airport during a stopover en route to her home in Maryland home.
In this photo taken July 20, 1957, just days after she had become Miss USA but quickly stripped of the title, Leona Gage Ennis poses at National Airport during a stopover en route to her home in Maryland home. (Associated Press)
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By T. Rees Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 6:47 PM

For one day in 1957, Leona Gage of Maryland was declared the most beautiful woman in the United States.

But Ms. Gage, who was named Miss USA on July 18, 1957, had not worn her tiara for more than 24 hours before pageant officials stripped her of the title.

She was disqualified for deceiving the judges on important elements of her biography. She lied about her age - claiming to be 21 when she was 18 - and hid the fact that she was a housewife in Anne Arundel County and the mother of two sons.

For Ms. Gage, who died Oct. 5 at age 71 of a heart ailment at a hospital in Sherman Oaks, Calif., losing her crown was the most publicly devastating moment in a difficult life.

She had been a prematurely gorgeous young woman, a mother twice over by 16, and locked in a troubled marriage. She hoped the beauty contest would be her route to fortune, if not fame, but it instead led to national humiliation.

In a subsequent appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show," she looked like a ghost, expressing in almost inaudible tones that she wanted to be a "dramatic actress." Her career thereafter took her to Las Vegas and then to Southern California, where she existed on the fringes of the movie world.

She said she abused drugs and attempted suicide. All six of her marriages ended in divorce. She eventually lost custody of her five children.

The Baltimore Sun tracked her down in 2005, when she was living alone in an apartment beyond Hollywood. Having developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Ms. Gage was tethered to the nose tubes of an oxygen tank.

"There's really no way that this could have a happy ending, is there?" Ms. Gage told the Sun. "Why? Because my dream is dead - having all my children around the table at one time, and me serving them turkey and all the trimmings."

Mary Leona Gage was born April 8, 1939, in Longview, Tex.

A tall, voluptuous brunette before she was in her teens, Ms. Gage possessed a silhouette capable of stopping men on the sidewalk mid-stride.

At 13, while working as a drugstore waitress, she met Gene Ennis, an airman almost a decade her senior.


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