The problem with the birthday brunch for Patricia Neal yesterday at the Watergate Hotel was that for the first hour and a half, the photographers outnumbered the guests. Among them was paparazzo Ron Galella, now stalking Elizabeth Taylor instead of Jacqueline Onassis.

He came with two assistants.

"Everyone is interested in Liz these days," said Galella. "She's number one . . . She's easier than Jackie to photograph. She's comfortable with being a celebrity."

By 1 p.m., there were 12 guests.

"I just talked to Liz and Eva (Gabor), and Tom Selleck just called. His girlfriend got food poisoning, but they're coming," said New York publicist Barry Landau.

Finally, Landau allowed the 14 photographers into the room to capture Neal dramatically opening her present from Ronald Reagan, with whom she twice costarred in films.

"Oh, no, it's a jar of jellybeans," moaned one of the guests.

"But I like jellybeans," said Neal.

At 1:30, Selleck, tall and tan, glided in with his number-one girl, Jilly Mack.

"How are you feeling, Jilly?" someone called out. The cameras clicked away.

"Oh, she's fine. We just ate at my mother's last night," said Selleck, smiling tightly. "Are these people going to photograph us while we eat?"

Of course not. Landau asked the press to leave, and smiled a relieved smile.