The visual shortcut for celebs-in-philanthropy is Natalie Portman looking fresh-faced in a t-shirt — at least in Sunday's NYT Magazine article, "The Celebrity Solution." As PR man Howard Bragman puts it, "You can't just get $20 million a picture, you've got to serve turkeys to the poor, too." Our favorite part is the faux-naivete Portman adopts when explaining that her celebrity facilitates getting pet cause a meeting on Capitol Hill:

In 2004, Natalie Portman, then a 22-year-old fresh from college, went to Capitol Hill to talk to Congress on behalf of the Foundation for International Community Assistance, or Finca, a microfinance organization for which she served as "ambassador." She found herself wondering what she was doing there, but her colleagues assured her: "We got the meetings because of you." For lawmakers, Natalie Portman was not simply a young woman — she was the beautiful Padmé from "Star Wars." "And I was like, 'That seems totally nuts to me,' " Portman told me recently. "It's the way it works, I guess. I'm not particularly proud that in our country I can get a meeting with a representative more easily than the head of a nonprofit can."

More disburbingly, however:

An entire industry has sprung up around the recruitment of celebrities to good works. Even an old-line philanthropy like the Red Cross employs a "director of celebrity outreach." Oxfam has a celebrity wrangler in Los Angeles, Lyndsay Cruz, on the lookout for stars who can raise the charity's profile with younger people... The more deeply committed figures, like Angelina Jolie, retain firms like the Global Philanthropy Group, which, according to a representative, offers "comprehensive philanthropic management."

The most amusing anecdote recounts George Clooney and his masculinity:

Clooney balked only at buttering up Laura Bush. I attended the meeting and heard him tell Jamie Drummond, the executive director of DATA: "I just don't feel it's right for me to meet the first lady. I've been very critical of her husband in public; I think there's something unmanly about meeting with his wife first."

Nothing like a little ego to bring this selfless cause-supporting back down to earth.

The Celebrity Solution [NYT]

[Photo: Alexei Hay for the NYT]