In exchange, all Rosenbach director Derick Dreher had to do was play along - and agree to display Colbert's handwritten manuscript of his new children's book, I Am a Pole (And So Can You), a work blessed by Sendak himself, next to the mother of all manuscripts, James Joyce's Ulysses, the pride of the Rosenbach.
With a straight face. And a receipt for a turkey sandwich.
For one of the brainiest of Philadelphia institutions, it was, on so many levels, a no-brainer.
Thus The Colbert Report's recurring "Who's Honoring Me Now?" segment on July 17 featured the "world-famous and little-known" Rosenbach.
"The episode on Colbert has led lots and lots of people to learn about Ulysses," Dreher said recently, still star-kissed by his turn on Comedy Central's the Colbert Report, still amazed at the odd thing that happened at the Rosenbach at noon on July 18: People - lots of them - were lined up to enter the place. Dreher had to fight crowds to go get lunch.
In the weeks since the episode aired, visits have more than doubled; in the land of rare-book repositories, this translates to nearly 500 people, up from 200 a year ago during the same period. Web hits doubled. The museum's reach on Facebook, as measured internally, jumped 1,372 percent. "Listen to Derick say words," as Colbert put it:
"Sendak once told me the only thing in our collection he felt no affinity to was Ulysses. Now there's a link, thanks to Stephen Colbert."
So there they are, enshrined in a collection that once included Napoleon's penis (which may have sealed the deal for Colbert, who displayed his penis-depleted copy of In the Night Kitchen in his interview with Sendak), and right next to the Joyce manuscript: the materials from the Colbert episode.
There is his manuscript, for I Am a Pole (Rosenbach people concede it was written after the fact, for the "Who's Honoring Me Now?" segment, but insist that does not disqualify it), in which he incorporated various phrases from Ulysses, then crossed them out.
There are also the materials involved in the creation of this new children's faux-classic: two empty Bud Light Lime bottles, two Sharpie pens, and the turkey-sandwich receipt.
Curator Rodgers says the tradition of acquiring materials an author used while writing has precedent at the Rosenbach. "It is the real beer. It is the real receipt," says Rodgers. "That was definitely part of Derick's joke. Colbert says, 'Would you like the receipt for the turkey sandwich?' He says, 'Not really.' Yet there it is. It kind of comments on personal collection of authors."
His manuscript next to that of what he called "the former greatest book of all time" would have satisfied Colbert. But, it turns out, the Rosenbach was just getting started.
Rodgers had run into a producer for the Colbert show in the Rosenbach's gift shop and overheard him talking about the touching and very funny interviews Colbert had done with Sendak. Rodgers told him that if Colbert wanted to donate things used during that interview - both Sendak and Colbert made drawings during the taping - the Rosenbach would be proud to display them.
It could not be denied that both the Rosenbach and The Colbert Report have a deep rapport with the irascible Sendak, who died May 8, the day Colbert's I Am a Pole, with its Sendak cover blurb ("The sad thing is, I like it"), was published.
The Colbert folks gave the Rosenbach pretty much everything they had - the tapes, Sharpies, drawings, manuscript, the rhyming dictionary Colbert claims he used because he couldn't think of anything that rhymed with pole.
Rodgers then applied scholarly textual analysis to assembling the second-floor portion of the exhibition, "Maurice Sendak and Stephen Colbert," which includes examples from the Rosenbach's collection of poles (and Poles) in the work of Joyce, Sendak, and others.
He wrote labels for the items that read a bit like parodies of serious research ("Scholars will debate for centuries whether it's a ship's mast or a flagpole that Max wraps his arms around . . .") and can be viewed either as near-mockery of the Rosenbach's own mission or as a silly guide to how scholars actually work, finding connections and making juxtapositions.
Both Dreher and Rodgers defend the show's intellectual integrity, and not just because they'll pretty much do anything to get people to use the word Ulysses, not to mention pick up a copy. Or because Rodgers finally got Colbert's cut-up copy of In the Night Kitchen (plus the plastic bag filled with the excised penises; it's also on display).
"We like to think we play with our collections every day, remixing, finding strange fusions of objects," said Rodgers. "This was sort of playing in a different sense. But it's a playful book."
Dreher: "We like to think of Ulysses as readable, funny, relevant to everyday life. To us, Ulysses is that great classic, and one definition of a classic is it can stand up to any great interpretation, including parody. Why not?"
Dreher told Colbert that Joyce would have hated Colbert's book - short, and with pictures - next to his masterpiece, long, without.
But the Rosenbach, oddly, has always been a bit at odds with Joyce himself, if not with his masterwork. Its founder, Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach, acquired the manuscript at an auction over Joyce's objections.
Sendak, on the other hand, would have given his blessing to the Colbert invasion of the Rosenbach. He blessed Colbert's decision to write a children's book, and watching the interviews, it becomes clear that the often curmudgeonly 83-year-old had the wit, mischievousness, and comic timing to match his host's.
The folks at the Rosenbach say that Colbert has actually read Ulysses. The Washington Post recently wrote that Colbert courses are being taught in colleges across the country. Perhaps this 21st-century satirist does deserve to be in the same glass case as Joyce.
Although Dreher appears to be bantering with Colbert on the episode, he never actually met him. He was interviewed at the Rosenbach by producers, with Colbert's comments edited in later.
But there's no denying his moment on the Report has brought people to the Rosenbach who otherwise never would have come in a million years. Like the Patti family from New York City, who followed the lead of their 17-year-old son Anthony, a Colbert fan, and detoured on a family trip just to visit the Rosenbach.
"Nobody knew what it was, we couldn't find it," said dad Pasquale Patti. "We were asking like five people, finally we had to Google it."
He added, in music to Dreher's ears: "I want to take a look at Ulysses," adding, "Now where's the Reading Terminal Market?"
Contact Amy S. Rosenberg at 215-854-2681 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @amysrosenberg.