WINCHELL FACTOR Want to know the golden rule of gossip? The first sleuth with the story wins. Just ask the folks over at HBO Pictures, who recently beat out Martin Scorsese and Tom Hanks in the race to make a biopic of the legendary '50s gossip columnist Walter Winchell. HBO recently announced plans to start filming director Paul Mazursky's Walter Winchell in early '98 with Stanley Tucci (Big Night) in the title role. Does that mean that Scorsese's rival flick for Disney has become as stale as yesterday's news? Not necessarily. While a source at the Mouse House says the studio is still not sure what Scorsese's follow-up to Kundun will be, reps for Hanks (who's rumored to be playing Winchell) will say only that the actor, who just finished shooting Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, hasn't decided on his next role either. But with the prestige punch of Hanks and Scorsese not to mention a screenplay based on Neal Gabler's well-regarded 1994 book Walter Winchell: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity it's unlikely Disney will be scared off too easily. Chris Nashawaty
DISMOUNT Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer is joining the stampede out of the crowded year-end movie field: Following the trail blazed by the Jim Carrey vehicle The Truman Show (which moved from Nov. 14 to next summer), The Mask of Zorro (Dec. 19 to July 24), and Sphere (Dec. 12 to Feb. 13), The Horse Whisperer, originally scheduled to open Dec. 12, is now eyeing May 15. The movie has been fraught with delays ever since Disney bought the rights to Nicholas Evans' best-seller for $3 million in 1995. Montana snows postponed the start of photography last spring, and subsequent floods slowed down the shoot. Still knee-deep in postproduction, director-star Redford now won't have to rush the movie to meet a holiday deadline. But he's not out of the woods yet: The Horse Whisperer will have just a week to establish itself before it faces being flattened by the May 22 bow of Godzilla. Gregg Kilday
FURTHERMORE Nicolas Cage is in discussions to star in 8 Millimeter, a thriller written by Seven's Andrew Kevin Walker and to be directed by Joel Schumacher, about a detective who explores the porn underworld as he investigates a snuff film ... Owen C. Wilson and Wes Anderson, the creators of the quirky 1996 indie Bottle Rocket, have snagged Bill Murray for their second project, the $9 million Disney comedy Rushmore; he'll star as the mentor of a 15-year-old nerd.