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ARNOLD'S LITTLE DIVIDEND: Playing pregnant in Junior was not the acting challenge you might think it would be for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The onetime champion bodybuilder just took his cues from wife Maria Shriver. ''Oh, I know all about pregnancy,'' he explains. ''I saw my wife go through it three times. I know about morning sickness. I know about mood changes.'' And the worst? ''Hormonal changes,'' says Schwarzenegger, rolling his eyes. ''All this knowledge means I play pregnant very realistically.'' At the end of the film, Arnold gives birth. ''By cesarean,'' he says. ''It was painless.'' Patting his rippled stomach, he adds, ''And now, it's over — and I have my figure back.''

HOWARD SCREECH: Deejay Howard Stern's quest for big-screen immortality hit more static last month when director John Avildsen (Rocky) exited the film version of Private Parts. Although Avildsen was still insisting to Variety that he's directing the film, producer David Kirkpatrick confirms Avildsen's out of the picture and chalks it up to creative differences. ''John and I didn't see eye to eye,'' says Kirkpatrick. ''John saw this as the story of an underdog taking on the issue of free speech — a man against the system. [I want a movie] in the tradition of Help! and A Hard Day's Night.'' Stern, who's working on the script, would not comment. No word on who'll replace Avildsen, but Kirkpatrick still expects filming to begin in New York early next year.

POPE (NON)FICTION: 'Tis almost the season to be jolly — and booksellers expect to be downright ecstatic by Christmastime, thanks to Pope John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope. With the book now selling an estimated 10,000 copies a week, ''it's almost scary what December will mean for Threshold,'' says Knopf sales manager Carl Lennertz. But finding a copy in the pontiff's backyard may take a little divine intervention. ''The Italian edition was sold out in 24 hours in all six [Vatican] bookstores,'' says Sister Anna Clara of the Holy See Press Office. ''Now [we] can hardly keep up with the requests. People are also eagerly asking for copies in [other languages] because of the pilgrims coming to the Vatican.'' Meanwhile, U.S. publishers are jumping on the ecclesiastical bandwagon. Abrams has just published a strange book called The Wonder of Innocence by Gina Lollobrigida, a collection of photo collages that touts a foreword by Mother Theresa on its jacket; and Fireside Books has a collection of Catholic Church trivia titled Pope-Pourri. Says Knopf spokesman Nicholas Latimer, ''There's no business like Pope business.'' Amen.

GOLDEN SILENCE: In the 1991 Madonna biodoc, Truth or Dare, Warren Beatty said the singer was incapable of living off camera. Now it looks like the Queen of Hype has had a change of heart. Madonna has just released Bedtime Stories, but there's only one magazine cover (Details), no avalanche of TV interviews, no controversial videos banned by MTV, not even a Sex tie-in. ''When Erotica came out we did a Madonna look-alike contest with a confessional booth,'' says Rob Goldstone, marketing VP for music retailer HMV. ''This time the campaign behind the record does threaten to send us to sleep. It's not the most exciting.'' Is Madonna purposely lying low? Even her usually chatty publicist, Liz Rosenberg, wasn't talking. In any case, the coy approach seems to be working: The album debuted at No. 3. Just don't tell anyone.

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