Erna Segal, who danced in the 1950s and ’60s under the name “Chiquita” in the popular dance team of Chiquita and Johnson, died April 5 in Los Angeles, just shy of her 65th birthday.
Born Erna Grabler in Prague, Czechoslovakia, she began studying ballet at age 5 and turned down the Bolshoi Ballet scholarship at 12 to go West with dancing partner John von Kralik, aka Johnson. Johnson, who was thirty years her senior, became her legal guardian. He also named their act Chiquita and Johnson.
The duo, toured Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, finishing the tour in 1952 in Cuba, where they remained for the year as headliners at Havana’s Tropicana Nightclub.
Discovered at the Tropicana, they were brought to the U.S. to debut on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1953. They appeared at Radio City Music Hall and had a yearlong run at Lou Walter’s Latin Quarter in New York starting in 1954, following up with encore performances until 1961. They went on to play major venues around the country, including the Fountainbleu in Miami and the Moulin Rouge in Hollywood, as well as most of the major hotels in Las Vegas, where they opened shows for Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Lena Horne and Frank SinatraThey also appeared on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” and “The Red Skelton Show.”The duo also played a standing room-only performance for President Eisenhower and Congress in 1955. The next year, Chiquita appeared in her first feature film, “Jaguar,” opposite Sabu. She married her dancing partner Johnson that year as well, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1960.
After the couple split, Erna continued her dancing career solo. She met her second husband, Daniel Segal in 1962 and the couple married the following year. Leaving the dancing behind with one last perfomance with Bobby Darin in Las Vegas, Erna and her husband opened ASC Films, a specialty distribution company. Together they wrote and produced “Man Isn’t Dying of Thirst” for PBS (1972) and “Dan Haggerty Goes to the Circus” for NBC (1978).
She suffered from liver failure as the result of toxic mold which infested her Malibu home after the El Nino rains of 1997-98. She was awaiting a liver transplant at UCLA when she died. Erna Segal is survived by husband, her sister, and three nephews.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests you to contact your local representative to urge education about toxic mold.