When Hollywood's first president can't make what the White House calls a "drop by" in the flesh, he obligingly films or videotapes a personal message with a script drafted for him by the folks who will be seeing it. And in the Hollywood tradition of a boffo box office, those folks also get the bill for the production costs -- which can reach several thousand dollars.

And so, while President Reagan may or may not appear in person at the Washington Press Club's Congressional Dinner Jan. 26, he definitely won't be there on tape. The press club doesn't want to pay for the president to send his greetings.

All of this came to light when somebody at the press club picked up the phone the other day and heard somebody at the White House ask: "What would you like us to put on this videotape of the president?"

"What tape?" replied the baffled WPCer.

Later, one dinner committee member said, "It was as if we were running some Republican fund-raiser. We said, 'We're still waiting to hear from the president.' "

Over at the White House, an official whose job it is to arrange lights, camera and action, explained, "We had the dinner as a 'drop by' and the president obviously can't attend everything. We taped today Friday and they had their big chance.

"The president wasn't going to attend so we gave them the option of a message," said the official, adding that the president's production schedule varies from month to month. "It's very well accepted."

Except at the Washington Press Club. Last year, the president's in-absentia message cost $2,000, once production costs were totaled by the White House, which hired the crew to film it. The club was delighted to pay it since it was a special tribute to White House Press Secretary Jim Brady. But this year there is no such tribute planned.

While one part of the White House was busy ruffling some WPC feathers, another part had succeeded in smoothing some others. The Republican National Committee's finance committee agreed to change the date of its big Eagles' fund-raiser after pressure was exerted by the White House. Originally, that was scheduled the same night as the WPC event. Now, the Eagles will be flying into town a week later, on Feb. 1.

There aren't any plaques that say so -- yet -- but when it comes to who's slept where, evangelist Billy Graham wins the White House Winken, Blinken and Nod award. He probably holds the record for the number of nights a man of the cloth has slept under the same roof as a president of the United States.

Last week Graham and his wife, Ruth, were back at the White House, this time sleeping in the Queen's Bedroom at the invitation of the Reagans.

"I always choose the Queen's room because we sleep a little sounder. The mattress is a little rough in the Lincoln room," said Graham yesterday.

The evangelist said he, his wife and the Reagans had a "simple little dinner, told a few jokes and discussed some spiritual and religious things for about three hours." He said the president also talked about his South American trip.

"I wasn't sure if I should say it was time to go to bed, so finally around 9:30 I told him that he'd better get to bed. He had one more story to tell," said Graham.

He met the Reagans nearly 30 years ago when he was playing golf in Arizona. A woman introduced herself and said she wanted him to meet her son-in-law. The woman turned out to be Edith Davis, Nancy Reagan's mother.

Actually, Graham's presidential connections go back to Dwight Eisenhower.

And in the Johnson days, when he came to Washington, Graham said LBJ would call him up and say, "You're in the wrong hotel. I'm sending a car for you."

Richard Nixon used to put him on the third floor, which was "more like a hotel."

Jimmy Carter let him choose which room he wanted--which is how he found out about the Lincoln Bedroom mattress. He said Ronald Reagan "is very religious--in his heart. As much as any president I have known. But because of the shooting, the security is so tight he can't go to church."