Barbara Leaming, Frank Brady, and Charles Higham all report that RKO held a private rough cut screening of Kane on January 3, 1941, on the RKO lot, for the editors of Life, Look, and Redbook, three of the most important magazines in America at the time. These three magazines were chosen because they had looming deadlines for February - other magazines had later deadlines, and could wait until the film was finished. The print of Kane shown at this screening had no music. The only people originally allowed at this screening were Welles, his press agent Herbert Drake, the three magazine editors, the West Coast entertainment editor of The New York Times, who was under a gag order until Kane's official release, and the projectionist. No RKO brass or press people were admitted.
Word of the screening was leaked to the Hollywood Reporter, and Hedda Hopper got wind of it. Hedda called RKO and invited herself to the screening. Not wanting to offend one of the most powerful columnists in Hollywood, Welles and the RKO brass acquiesced. Hedda's rival, Louella Parsons, who worked for Hearst (Hopper did not), did not hear about this first screening.
The editors of Life, Look, and Redbook loved Citizen Kane; Ms. Hopper did not. "Not only is it a vicious and irresponsible attack on a great man", she stated, "but the photography is old fashioned and the writing very corny." She then went on to attack Welles, Kane, and RKO in her columns. She also called Hearst's people, tipping them off.
On January 8, Welles wrote a note to Louella Parsons, warning her that an upcoming article in Friday magazine on Kane contained a "vicious lie". The offending quotation in Friday was as follows:
"Louella Parsons, Hollywood correspondent for the Hearst newspaper chain, has been praising Welles lavishly, giving Citizen Kane a terrific advance build-up. When informed of these outbursts of praise, Welles said: 'This is something I cannot understand. Wait until the woman finds out that the picture's about her boss.'"
Welles was rightfully incensed, as the quotation had been made up out of whole cloth, and he demanded a retraction, but his attempt to preempt Louella's anger failed. Hearst had read an advance copy of the article, and had called Parsons, asking her to set up a screening of Kane to see if the rumours were true. Hearst did not tell Parsons of the report from Hopper.
Parsons was livid. She had been a Welles partisan, and felt betrayed by him. She called RKO the next day, and insisted on a private screening, which she attended with two Hearst attorneys and her chauffeur, Louis Collins. Reports differ as to whether Parsons stayed for the entire screening, or stormed out early, but both Brady and Higham report that the chauffeur, Collins, murmured politely to Welles as he left the projection room, "That was a fine picture, Mr. Welles."