SHERMAN OAKS—On October 5, Leona Gage, a former beauty pageant contestant, passed away from heart failure in a hospital in Sherman Oaks. She was 71.

Gage was named Miss USA in 1957, but had her title removed after it was found that she was in violation of competition rules.  Gage reportedly had told pageant officials that she was not dating at the time, though it was later discovered that she had been married twice, (both times at age 14) and had two children, which was against the competition’s regulations for the profile of a beauty contestant.  She had also told pageant officials that she was 21 but later confessed that she was actually 18.  Gage was disqualified from the competition and her crown and prizes were given to first runner-up Charlotte Sheffield.

Born as Mary Leona Gage on April 8, 1939, in Longview, Texas, Gage reportedly met a 24-year-old U.S. Air Force airman named Gene Ennis when she was 13.  It was found that she was pregnant at the time, though when Gage attempted to contact Ennis in writing, she did not receive a response from him.  So at the suggestion of a drug store worker, she married a volunteer groom, also an airman named Edward Thacker, when she was 14.  The double wedding took place in Oklahoma, but the marriage was nullified after a week.

In 1953, Gage, still 14, reconnected with Ennis and married him in Wichita Falls, Texas, then moved with him to Manhattan Beach near Severna Park, Md.  She gave birth to her second child at age 16 and the marriage rapidly deteriorated.  Gage later worked at a dress shop in Glen Burnie, Md. when she met a part-time model named Barbara Mewshaw, who told her about the Walters Modeling Agency.  Gage allowed Mewshaw to enlist her in the Miss Maryland, USA pageant in hopes of pursuing a career as a model, but was later removed after admitting that she had lied on her resume.

After the competition scandal and her failed marriage became publicized, Gage made numerous television appearances, including on the popular “Ed Sullivan Show.” She was then bombarded by an influx of hate mail.

In 1957, Gage moved with her two sons to Las Vegas, Nev., where she worked as a featured showgirl at the “Hotel Tropicana.”  She divorced Ennis in 1958 and dated Frank Sinatra at age 19.  Shortly afterward, she married a dancer named Nick Covacevich, whom she divorced in 1961 before moving to Los Angeles, where she married Gunther Peter Collatz, who was pursuing a career as a screenwriter at the time.  They divorced two years afterward.

Gage made appearances in the films “Tales of Terror” (1962), and “A House Is Not a Home” (1964).  After she divorced her fourth husband the same year, Gage became involved in drugs and later attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates in 1965, at age 26.  She was treated during a three-week stay at Camarillo State Hospital.

Gage’s autobiography, “My Name is Leona Gage, Will Somebody Please Help Me?” was published in 1965.  During the same year, Gage gained a starring role in the movie “Scream of the Butterfly.”  After her fifth and sixth marriages, she gave birth to another son, and later lost custody of her children.  She worked as an actress during the ’70s and ’80s, and resided in Southern California until her death.

Gage is survived by her three sons, Robert Kaminer, David Ennis, Nicholas Covacevich and her three grandchildren.  Two of her other children are deceased.