Carole Vernier, aide and muse to Herb Caen, dies

(Photo: Robert Altman)
(Photo: Robert Altman)

Editor’s note: My wife and I were very fond of Carol. She was a big help to Herb too.

“Carole Vernier had a smoky voice, a throaty laugh and an extra-dry wit, a combination that made her the perfect backstop for Herb Caen,” The San Francisco Chronicle writes.

“Ms. Vernier, who served as The Chronicle columnist’s assistant until his death in 1997, was found deceased in her Bush Street apartment in San Francisco this week. The cause of death was heart failure complicated by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to her sister, Darryl Cole. She was 75.

“During two stints — 1971 to 1979 and 1989 to 1997 — Ms. Vernier sat outside Caen’s office, at a desk cluttered with letters and notes that arrived by the hundreds. A cigarette was usually burning in the ashtray.

Hectic operation

“’You have to imagine the phone ringing every 10 seconds, and there were three lines,’ said Jesse Hamlin, a former Caen legman turned Chronicle staff writer and jazz critic. ‘She’d be constantly opening mail while the phones were ringing off the hook, and Herb would be calling out from his office for her to check something that he needed right away. It was just juggling balls that never stopped.’

“Since Caen lived in the old world of telephones and typewriters, Ms. Vernier was essential in dealing with press agents and publicists who were forever trying to get their clients’ names in the column.

“At the end of the workday, Ms. Vernier could be found at the famed newspaper hangout, the M&M at Fifth and Howard streets, holding court, cigarette in one hand, “Vitamin V” in the other. Publicists would seek her out to learn whether an item had made it into the next day’s column, then they would wait for the early edition to come off the presses at 11 p.m.

“Carole Anne Vernier was born in Los Angeles and grew up all over the world, owing to her father’s job with Standard Oil. After graduating from high school in The Hague, Netherlands, she attended Stanford University, where her grandfather Chester Vernier had been a professor of law.”

The rest of the obituary is here.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

6 thoughts on “Carole Vernier, aide and muse to Herb Caen, dies”

  1. Sad news indeed, Jeff. I still have her name and phone number in my Roledex (look it up, kids). She was always kind and welcoming in her pressure cooker job. A great gate-keeper. Era-wise, this could be the end. Or just in one era and out the other…

  2. In the years I managed the legendary San Francisco newspaper hangout M&M Tavern, Carole was one of my favorite people.  She was a professional drinker in a saloon filled daily with professional drinkers (and I don’t think she’d mind me saying that).

    Carole made sure that happenings at the M&M were mentioned in Herb’s column a couple times a year. And that was great for business.

    A top-tier S.F. publicist once asked me what kind of bonus my employer gave me each time the M&M was mentioned in one of Herb’s column.  The answer was zero.  She laughed and said that with all her clients she had a clause in the contract stipulating she would be paid an additional $500 each time their name appeared in his column.

    And in most cases, the plug came about as a result of the publicist sitting down with Carole at the M&M having a drink or two.

    Carole Vernier was a fun gal –– so sorry to see that she has died.

    1. Thanks for your support. Carol was my birth mother and I’m hearing a lot of fun stories about her. When they say ” the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree “, they aren’t always talking about the Dad.
      Dirk Clarke

      1. Thanks Dirk. My wife and I were about a generation behind, as I was one of the youngest reporters at The Chronicle in the mid-’80s. But we would enjoy going to the M&M and visit with Carol, Lona and Harry Jupiter, Harre DeMoro, Dale Champion, Lloyd Watson, etc., before heading back to our flat on Telegraph Hill. Once Shannon and I were in Albertville, France, for the 1992 Winter Olympics. We ran into George Gund, the owner of the San Jose Sharks, who was handing out Sharks pens to the crowd 5,800 miles away from the Bay Area. We immediately knew it was a Herb Caen item, and faxed it from our hotel to Carol and Herb (no email access). Carol handled the whole communication with aplomb! And it ran in the paper the next day. Carol went to Stanford. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.

      2. Also Dirk, just to let you know, we made a donation to Glide Church in your mom’s name. All the best,

  3. Carole will be missed. I was introduced to her by a former San Francisco Progress photo and we hit it off instantly. She was a popular guest at my big birthday bashes and was appropriately treated with celebrity status.

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