Leona Gage, who won the Miss USA title in 1957, died from heart failure at the age of 71 at a Sherman Oaks hospital on Tuesday. Gage enjoyed her Miss USA title only briefly because the next day it was discovered she was married with two children, and the title was taken from her. Gage, who was only 18 years old when she won the pageant, also fibbed about her age, telling officials she was 21 years old.
Gage, like Vanessa Williams and Carrie Prejean generations later, became more famous for the scandal surrounding her win, than for wearing the crown. She appeared on television many times because of the controversy, including the famous Ed Sullivan Show. Gage was first married at age 14 then had her second child at age 16.
After winning the Miss Maryland USA title in the 1957 Miss USA competition in Long Beach California, Gage told reporters she did not have a boyfriend and “I want to wait until I’m 26 before I become seriously interested in the opposite sex”. When her past was revealed a tearful Gage explained that she knew the rules forbid a contestant from being married, but she entered the contest anyways because she needed the money. She didn’t expect to win she said, but was “most grateful I was Miss USA for one day”.