For Elton John, absence from his estranged wife, Renate, made his heart grow fonder. The couple separated in March after three years, and the marriage seemed kaput. But John, who just returned from a trip to China with his Watford soccer team, showed up at the Prince's Trust Concert in London last week with Renate. John's publicist, Sarah McMullen, says the pair has been back together for a month: "We decided not to talk about it because we felt they needed some quiet time together."

Welcome to the not-so-ok corral. When the big guns at CBS decided to make a two-hour reunion of Gun-smoke, the first thing to be shot was the budget. So in order to film the Old West, the production team headed north to Canada, where the grass is high and the costs are low. But when Gunsmoke finally airs next season, the real missing piece of true-blue Americana will be Matt Dillon's sidekick, Festus. Actor Ken Curtis was appalled by executive producer John Mantley's first money offer. "I was looking forward to doing it," says Curtis. "But they wouldn't pay my money. So I said forget it." More obliging were series regulars James Arness, Buck Taylor and Amanda Blake, who will be cruising Dodge City again. Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams, died in 1980.

Perhaps it's because singer Maureen McGovern has such a divine voice that a papal organizing committee asked her to be one of the opening acts at Dodger Stadium when Pope John Paul II comes to town in September. But McGovern, who calls herself a lapsed Catholic, declined to appear after learning there would be no pennies from heaven in exchange for her work. "When I asked about compensation, they said they'd be glad to provide me with a limo to and from my hotel," says McGovern. "The payback was supposed to be the privilege of opening for him." The peaks and valleys of showbiz are not new to the Pontiff. The Jeweler's Shop, a family drama he wrote under an assumed name in 1960 while still a bishop, is soon to be a $9 million major motion picture. Directed by Michael (Orca) Anderson, the movie will be shot in Krakow and Toronto. Co-producer Mario Di Nardo says, "The actresses chosen must be little-known and with excellent, unblemished reputations so as not to upset the Pope."

The category is colleges. For $50 and a scholarship to Yale, what old, 1960s TV show is returning to the air? That's right. College Bowl will air on cable's Disney Channel starting this fall. Now here's a bonus question. What former talk show host is coming back as moderator? Dick Cavett. Hold the applause, please.

Producer Steve Friedman's sudden departure from the Today show came as much of a surprise to Friedman as it did to everyone else. No one really doubted that Friedman, 40, the man who returned Today to the top of the morning ratings heap, would do anything but cheerfully renew his contract despite a fat offer from Fox Broadcasting. So what made Ste-vie run? Insiders say Friedman was approached by NBC News president Lawrence Grossman, who demanded a yes or no answer from the procrastinating Friedman. The star producer asked if he might have the weekend to think things over; Grossman said no. So Friedman left and will go to work for his former NBC boss Grant Tinker, now an independent producer.

Linda Ronstadt is definitely a Method singer. During her phase of '40s torch songs, Ronstadt sported a bobbed hairdo and wore smart cocktail dresses. Then came the Trio period, when she joined Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris in cowpoke clothes. Now the singer has gone beyond the fringe and moved south of the border to cram on Spanish for her next album of Mexican mariachi music. She's taken up temporary residence in Guadalajara and will be seen next, no doubt, with a rose in her teeth.