Kovacs impersonates Harry Cohn, wickedly, in Richard Quine's "It Happened to Jane" (1959)It's been rumored that Harry Foster Malone, the villain that Ernie Kovacs plays in Richard Quine's “It Happened to Jane” (1959), was modeled after Charles Foster Kane in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941). Wrong.
While part of the character's name was borrowed from Welles, the name Harry itself actually comes from ... Harry Cohn, the notorious head of Columbia Pictures, which produced and released "It Happened to Jane."
The Kovacs-Welles rumor has been kept alive by Turner Movie Classics. On the two occasions that I've seen "It Happened to Jane" on TCM, the source of Kovacs' performance in the film was misidentified both times.
After a Sunday screening of the film, weekend host Ben Mankiewicz reported the rumor. Given that Welles' classic film was written by his grandfather, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Ben's connecting of the two roles made sense. But then Robert Osborne repeated it during TCM's recent Star of the Month tribute to Jack Lemmon, also one of "Jane's" stars.
True, the middle name Foster seems to be a dead giveaway but it's also a distraction. While we were working on a book together, Lemmon told me that Kovacs' Harry Foster Malone was based directly on Cohn, who died while Lemmon, Kovacs and Quine were making "Bell, Book and Candle" the year before. Kovacs affected Cohns' look for his wicked impersonation by donning a bald plate for the film and gaining 40 pounds.