So Merv Griffin is playing tennis on his home court in Los Angeles last Monday with not a thought of coming to any inauguration.

The phone rings. It's Frank, on inaugural TDY in Washington.

"Hello, Frank."

"Hello, Whitey." (Griffin's hair is white.)

"How come I'm Whitey if I was listening to your records when I was a kid?"

Finally, Sinatra puts it this way: "You gotta get here, pal."

How could he refuse? "Frank does have a way with words."

So TV personality Griffin and his friend, actress Eva Gabor, flew in last night in time for a lively pre-inaugural warmup -- a black tie mini-gala at the Hay-Adams in honor of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Paul X. Kelley and his wife, Barbara, thrown by their friends Joanne Herring, the wealthy Houston socialite, and Washington editor Dodie Kazanjian.

Griffin will help host tonight's gala concert for Vice President and Barbara Bush. "I'm here not knowing what I'm doing, but it's fun," he said.

Herring, whose dress was plenty de'collete' -- as was Gabor's -- trotted up during the Caille sous Verre (quail) and declared to Gabor, "What do you think about a table of all men? Am I a friend or am I a friend? John Shad, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, was so distraught he had to sit with me instead of you!"

Gabor wore diamond necklaces, rings, earrings and bracelets. One of her rings had many diamonds on it and looked as big as a golf ball.

"I feel won-derful at this table!" she said.

There was dancing between courses and Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.), seated next to Gabor, danced with her.

"You must have done something right!" said Griffin to Kasten.

"I really got lucky," said the senator. "I beat a person named Gaylord Nelson."

Kazanjian, Washington editor of House and Garden magazine, said she and Herring are good buddies and decided to throw the bash for "a potpourri of people we know . . . P.X. the general and Barbara are friends from Newport."

Republicans and conservatives were most in evidence, including Sens. John W. Warner (R-Va.), Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. and former presidential speechwriter Aram Bakshian Jr., who observed that the food was "not quite as wretched as usual" at Washington parties.

There were a few captains of American industry, like Harris J. Ashton, chairman of General Host (better known as Hickory Farms), who said he was having lunch at 21 in New York yesterday when the news broke that the restaurant had been sold. News photographers rushed in, he said.

And diplomats, both our own and from elsewhere: Faith Whittlesey, expected to be the next U.S. ambassador to Switzerland; Pakistani Ambassador Ejaz Azim and his wife, Begum; Netherlands Ambassador Richard Hendrik Fein and his wife, Monique; and Moroccan Ambassador Maati Jorio.

Herring is honorary consul-general in Texas for both Pakistan and Morocco, and promotes trade and other business relations between those countries and the United States.

Gen. Kelley looked splendid in his full-dress uniform, as a U.S. Marine can and should.

He did not have a silver-and-red balloon with his name and table number on it attached to his wrist as practically everybody else did, but this was understandable.

"I have one over there," he told Warner, "but I did not want a fellow Marine to see me with a balloon." Later, he held the balloon at the request of news photographers.

Barbara Kelley said she thought the party was a nice start to inauguration weekend. "God, isn't this great!" she greeted a friend. "Isn't this off to a wonderful start!"