Fame hasn't made Watergate security guard Frank Wills rich since he called the police about the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee offices, but it got him out of jail yesterday.

"I let him go. I was getting tired of these calls from the media," said Capt. R.W. (Bob) Durland of the Augusta, Ga., police department, which jailed Wills for 2 1/2 days when he failed to make a $1,000 bond following a shoplifting charge.

Wills, who recently has been living with his mother across the state line in North Augusta, S.C., was arrested Wednesday in a Sky City discount store and charged with stealing a $17 pair of sneakers.

Said Wills, shortly before his release on his own recognizance: "They said on Wednesday they could release me on my own recognizance, but I was living across the line in South Carolina. I called my mother and my uncle to get me out of here, but my own family have turned their backs on me. And my finances are completely bankrupt."

Said Durland: "I didn't think he'd be in here 15 minutes. All he needed was somebody to sign for him, but nobody came. Then the media started calling. We had a call from Atlanta, somebody from Chicago, we had Channel 12 up here, we had a station in Columbia. I told him, 'I'm not supposed to let you go, but I will. If you don't come back, I'm going to come get you myself.' "

Wills said the shoplifting charge came from a "joke that turned into an embarrassment. I had my kid a 15-year-old son with me at the store, and I had my hiking bag with me. I was teasing the kid about the shoes, telling him he couldn't have them. I put the shoes in my hiking bag and I was going to take them out at the cash register. I hadn't even left the cash register when they asked me to go to the manager's office. I had the money in my hand. Then the police arrived. I brought the kid down here from Washington because of a drug-type situation. You can imagine the image I'm trying to give to him, and then this happens."

In Georgia, concealing or altering merchandise in a store is grounds for a charge of theft by shoplifting.

A Sky City executive refused to comment on the arrest, except to say: "We have a policy that when we make arrests we're sure of what we're doing."

Wills gained fame on June 17, 1972, when he found a door lock taped open in the Watergate office building. He removed the tape, then found the lock re-taped. He called the police, and set in motion the events that led to the resignation of President Nixon.

Afterward, he got awards from the Democratic Party and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, among other groups, and a role in the movie "All the President's Men," playing himself. But fame brought no financial reward. He has worked sporadically since then. In 1977 he said he felt the government should have given him a humanitarian award, adding: "If I had it to do over again, I think I would just pass by and continue to let it happen due to the response I got."

In 1978 he reported a mystical experience in which he learned of a new world after three years of meditation on a star of David.

"I still sort of, like, live in Washington," he said yesterday. "I put in a couple of applications for everything. I tried the textile mills down here, but those kind of jobs are hard to find."

Wills is 34. He added that this arrest was his first, and that he hopes to find work with "kids or old people."