A Mollyphobe’s Guide to Writing Molly Cunningham
by Gidget and Charles Gray
Thanks to Charles Gray, Cody and Starflash for their input and suggestions.  All are terrific TS fanfic authors.

Introduction:  Technical Terms and Definitions

Mollyphobe (mol¢é-fobe)
n. 1.A Spinner who suffers from this mysterious condition.  They must be treated with compassion and understanding.  They function best in rooms with soft, dim lighting and jump at sudden noises.  Just sing to them, trim their fingernails regularly and make sure their rooms are locked from the outside at night.  Don’t leave anything sharp lying around. J

Mollyphobia (mol¢é-fo-bee-a)
n. 1. Morbid fear of all things associated with Molly Elizabeth Cunningham.  2. A common psychological condition shared by Spinners.  The source has been traced to one little girl bearcub, Molly Cunningham, hence the name.  Those afflicted may suffer from these symptoms:  toothaches (tooth decay in extremely severe cases), advanced diabetes, uncontrollable shivering, hallucinations, nausea, and diarrhea.  Other maladies with similar effects:  Shirley Temple Syndrome, Arnold Drummond Disease, Webster’s Disease and the most recent, Olsen Twin Syndrome.

This Won't Hurt a Bit

Molly Cunningham is about six years old in the series (roughly 1937).  She's the only daughter of Rebecca Cunningham, who runs Higher for Hire.  Admittedly one of the least favorite characters of many Spinners, Molly gets a raw deal.  She's a kid, and lots of people don't want to read about kids and prefer the more serious adventures of the older characters --- including me.   I like to romanticize Baloo and Rebecca’s relationship for my own creative purposes, and a kid just gets in the way.  Here we are, embroiled in a great story with danger and burning planes and romance and then this little voice pipes up, “Mommy, I have to go!  (remember Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom?  Ugh, I hated Short Round, Indy’s annoying kid sidekick… why couldn’t that crazy priest rip out his heart instead?  ;-).  I honestly don’t like being reminded that the lovely Rebecca has domestic issues… for an action junkie --- who cares?  And then there are those darn stretch marks… :-p

But she’s Rebecca’s daughter and I can’t pretend she doesn’t exist just so Rebecca can go frolic with Baloo on the beach, rolling on the surf and getting covered in kelp like that famous necking scene in From Here to Eternity (Hmmm…) *Ahem* If I write Molly at all, I keep the scene necessary and brief, like having Rebecca put her to sleep…er, bed. Or she can overhear some information and cause a misunderstanding for the adults, leading to an argument, etc.  I'm going to try to make her presence less painful to write for those who wish she'd go play in the traffic... or play 'High Diver Queen' from the balcony.  And no, you cannot play 'Mollyball'.

She may be a child, but that doesn't mean you have to write her solely as the 'cute' ingredient.  With her fuzzy ears tied in pigtails, lisping voice and lacy panties protruding from her rompers, Molly can't help but come across as Dr. Death for diabetics --- if written without at least as much thought as the adult characters.  There are a few explanations for her character, most asserting that her presence on the show is to soften her mother’s hard-nosed businesswoman image.  Translation:  The writers gave Rebecca a cute little daughter so that she isn’t solely portrayed as screeching harpy, ripping Baloo’s freedom and eardrums to ribbons.  Both characters are much more complicated than that.


Molly may lisp sometimes and mangle the occasional big word, but she is about six years old (Kindergarten or Grade One, maybe) and can master intelligent sentences.  She can read (remember how Wildcat stumbled on the word 'journey' when he read to her, and she read it correctly in Flight of the Snow Duck?)


1.  Molly is not helpless.  She is toilet-trained and can feed herself and sits at the big people's table, not a highchair.   Although her size limits her in some ways (like reaching above counters) but she's smart enough to either climb a chair or use her rag doll Lucy to hit a set of switches in The Incredible Shrinking Molly). 

2.  She's very resourceful --- and fast.  Remember how hard she was to catch in Mollycoddled?  When Covington (a con artist who woos her mother to get a valuable doll from Molly) tricks her mother into leaving her alone with him, she does everything she can to escape.  She trips Covington with an umbrella handle, kicks and screams and does not go down without a fight.  She barricades her bedroom door, uses the umbrella handle to slide down a clothesline to safety.  The poor guy's practically dead by the time he traps her in hollow tree trunk.  Remember how easily she ducks into small spaces where her larger pursuers can't enter (a hollow tree trunk, for example).  If she can't outrun them, she hides.    Her sense of self-preservation is remarkable for a child that age.

3.  Molly is shrewd and sees through people's attempts to gain her trust.  While Rebecca is sometimes fooled by the refined manners of the occasional con artist, such as Covington, Muffy and Buffy, and Jack Case to name a few; her daughter isn't blinded by pretty words or expensive toys.  She takes an instant dislike to Covington (his flowery speech and stubborn insistence on befriending her set off her inner alarms) and tries to warn her mother, using her doll to articulate her suspicions.

Molly (hesitantly):  "Cara and Millie think he's creepy."
Rebecca:  "They want me to be happy, don't they?"
Molly (sighs): "They'll try real hard to like Mr. Covington."
Rebecca (kisses her cheek):  "Thank you, honey!"

After she leaves, Molly's hatred resurfaces as she scowls and addresses her doll Cara, the doll that Covington, well, covets (maybe that's the root of his name?):

"But I won't.  Creepy isn't getting you, or my mommy!"  She’s reassuring herself that they're her mute allies, so she won't feel so alone.  She knows that a bad man is fooling her mother and because she's a child, has no voice or power to change things other than making him as miserable as possible and driving him away.  She's fiercely loyal to her mother and will anything short of murder to protect her, even if it ruins Rebecca's love life.

Personality Kid

1.  Molly is basically a good person (I say 'person', because some people tend to treat their child characters as if they're just props to move around the fic to be rescued, fed, comforted, punished, get into trouble etc.).  She's a nice, natural little girl who loves getting dirty (much to Rebecca's dismay) and playing make-believe games, like pretending that she's superhero Dangerwoman, for example).  She's independent, but does get lonely for a playmate.   Because the H4H crew is usually busy working (except maybe Baloo), she's often frustrated by this inconvenience.   She's not particular about the age of her playmates --- a fun adult like Wildcat or an endangered animal will do!

2.  She loves animals and takes maternal steps to care for her pets.  There's that fierce loyalty thing again.  She'll even raid the fridge of practically all its contents to keep the beast happy (Mommy for a Day).  She'll bathe it and flood the bathroom with bubbles.  If anyone bothers her charges, watch out.  Maybe she'd care for animals for a career or be a mechanic, like Wildcat -- she's constantly following him around and 'helping' him.  

3.  She's generous -- when Rebecca wistfully says she wishes it would snow like it did when she was little, Molly loses no time to writing a special emergency letter to Santa requesting the white stuff.  She causes problems in Jolly Molly Christmas, but her heart is certainly in the right place.

4.  She hates liars (Covington), and for instance in Jolly Molly Christmas, forces Baloo to prove that Santa Claus exists.

Charles Gray, whose fics often features Molly (usually in her teens) says:

Molly is honest.  This doesn’t mean she isn’t imaginative, or that her stories verge into exaggeration --- but they are intended as stories, or are things that Molly believes.  Consider in Mollycoddled --- Molly says that her dolls will try real hard, but she doesn’t promise to for herself or them-- in the face of an unhappy mother, that takes a great deal of willpower.  In the first episode, Molly saves Baloo from the wrath of Rebecca, by admitting that she snuck aboard the Sea Duck.   That takes a sense of honesty that few children, or even adults possess.

Conversely, one of the ways to lose her faith quickly is to be caught in a lie-- Baloo can attest to that in Jolly Molly Christmas  (as aforementioned).

5.  But she's also devious and conniving in her crusade to fight injustice --- or to get her way.  In her campaign to drive Covington away, she's not above spilling his drink, tying his shoelaces together, putting a fork in his chair or laughing at his baldness ("Look, Cara, his hair fell off!").  If she wants something, she'll find a way to charm, trick or blackmail her way to her goal.  Probably got that from her mother.

EG:  In Plunder and Lightning, Part 2, Molly hides in the cargo of mangoes so she can go to Louie's with Baloo and Kit.  Of course she times her reappearance so it'll be too late to take her back to H4H.  She blackmails Baloo into taking her along by sweetly remarking, "Well...Mommy probably wouldn't want me to go to Louie's."

Baloo (horrified):  "You're not gonna tell your mom!"
Molly:  "Oh...I won't.  If you take me along."
Baloo (laughs in disbelief):  "Ya know somethin', Pigtails?  Ya think like me!"

Since most interesting conversations are not carried in her presence because of her youth, Molly is resourceful enough to hide and eavesdrop when she feels it's necessary.  She is not easy to fool or shake off.  When she wants to know something, she'll find a way.  She's like Nancy Drew, snooping where she shouldn't (eg: The Incredible Shrinking Molly).


This goes for all characters, no matter what story you write.  Nobody acts the same way around everyone.  Molly's behavior with various people will differ, because in life, people do act differently with their parents, siblings, friends, lovers, co-workers, etc.  To some (her loved ones at H4H), she is adorable, exasperating and needs constant supervision.  To others (Covington again), she's the devil's spawn.  Her bratty side would make a martyr murderous.

Both Don Karnage and Shere Khan pretty much ignore her, as some people who aren't interested in talking to children are apt to do.  They barely interact.  Don Karnage sees her as a way to get something out of Baloo (eg: Plunder and Lightning) when he kidnapped her and Rebecca to get the stone.  I think the only time Khan and Molly ever met was in the same episode when they were rescued from the pirates.  Baloo, Rebecca and Molly are snatched off the street so Khan can interrogate them.  But Khan directs his questions at the adults and all but ignores Molly.  It’s hard to say how they would have treated her had interacted in more episodes with them.  It’s safe to say that neither Khan nor Karnage like little kids all that much.

Charles Gray notes:
“But interestingly enough, Khan never says anything negative about her-- is just his natural politeness, (Khan never makes idle threats), or a deeper insight to her.  Remember, of all the characters in TaleSpin, Khan is among the most intelligent and perceptive.  Equally, Molly never seems to say anything about Khan. Time-strapped cartoon writers, or something else?”

Since Molly's biological father is absent from the picture (whether by death or intentionally --- depending on your opinion) Baloo is the closest thing Molly has for a father.  Although at first he wasn't exactly thrilled to have her around (she stowed away on the Sea Duck and blackmailed him into taking her to Louie's, remember?), he thought nothing of ordering her an ice cream sundae when they get there.  Baloo genuinely likes kids and she senses this.  

When in danger, he immediately scoops her up (not the ice cream) and faces pirates, bullets, etc. to protect her.  Granted, the cynic could claim it's only because he fears Rebecca's wrath if he doesn't, but he unconsciously adopts the paternal role.  Granted, food-lovin’ Baloo can’t seem to get his mind off his stomach for very long --- even his nicknames for her reflect this:  Muffin, Cupcake, that sort of thing.

When he baby-sits, they have an arrangement where she can listen to Dangerwoman (her favorite radio show) --- as long as she lets him snooze.  Or he gives her piggyback rides when she's too tired to walk any further.  Or he puts her to sleep, er bed.  Since she just fits in the seat of his armchair, he might drape a blanket over her (and try to remember not to sit down).  Or on Christmas Eve, he sleeps in his chair while she wets, er, sleeps in the bedroom he shares with Kit.  :-)

In one tender scene (Jolly Molly Christmas), he comforts her when she drops her last candy cane and tells her to put the biggest piece under her pillow for the Peppermint Fairy to find and replace with a whole candy cane.  She catches him trying to slip it under her pillow and accuses him of lying to her about Santa too.  To restore her faith in Santa Claus, he flies her to the 'North Pole' so she can give him her letter in person.  Now that's great daddy material!

Understandably the most important person to Molly at this stage of her life.  They love each other dearly, but Rebecca is understandably distracted by work (as sole supporter of their family) and exasperated by her daughter's penchant for mischief and chaos.  Molly, as aforementioned, is Rebecca's biggest fan and demands her attention at the most inconvenient times.  Molly resents it when her mother tells her off and will sulk until something shiny catches her attention. (*G*)  Molly is the reason Rebecca works so hard and Molly sometimes doesn't understand that:  Why can't Mommy play with me now? 

Molly is her mother's guardian angel.  When not battling creepy would-be boyfriends, she protects her privacy when Rebecca falls asleep on the desk.  She answers the phone at Higher for Hire and announces, "Mom can't talk now --- she's trying to take a nap!"

Molly may cause disruptions but she's also a living reminder to Rebecca that she promised to take her to the zoo and buy her triple-ripple ice cream.  In other words, Molly brings out her harried mother's gentler side... to counteract the somewhat shrewish side that is usually caused by Baloo.

Charles Gray adds:
“Also, Molly is the reason for Higher For Hire as much as anything.  Her presence, and affection for Kit and Baloo, is one of the factors that starts to change the company from “business” to “family” in Rebecca’s mind.  Without her, Rebecca would probably retreat behind the “shrew shell” full time.”

Kit doesn't adore kids (like Baloo, Wildcat and Louie), but he is very patient with them.  He'll play with Molly... as long as it doesn't hurt too much.  Babysitting is fine, but he does it for the money.  And boy, does he earn it!  Between buying her ice cream and saving her for, er from the pirates and a squid, Kit's a busy boy.  Molly worships him (most of the time) except when he dismisses her fanciful pretending that she's the mother of a pet sponge (Mommy for a Day).  Don't ask.

The genial ape dotes on Molly.  When he first sees her, the first thing he says to Baloo is:  "My, Baloo... these stewardesses get younger and prettier everyday!" He'll always create a special sundae for Molly, entertaining her by juggling ice cream scoops and singing in his scat-like rhythm.  

I think the best example of the Louie-Molly relationship is in Jolly Molly Christmas.  Louie is amazing with kids.  A reluctant Santa, he gamely keeps her 'Santafied' for hours while Baloo and Kit go back to H4H to get the coveted 'snow'.  He decorates his club like Santa's workshop to help Baloo preserve her belief in magic.  When the magic is destroyed (by some thoughtless customers who expose him as a fraud Santa), she runs away sobbing.  It's a heartbreaking scene.

Louie may be uncouth, but he certainly cares about her feelings, and immediately chastises them:  "Aw, what'd ya have to go and do that for?"

Perhaps Molly's best friend... his childlike nature, patience and love of play creates a very special rapport between them, symbolized by his nickname for her, ‘Mollycat’.  She loves to help him fix things.  He's game to play in the snow with her, and they even invented a 'Snow Duck' (a flying machine made of snow).  Their friendship is probably the purest, sweetest ever written.  He's her staunchest defender too.  When she irritates Baloo with her childish prattle while he's trying to solve a problem, he snaps at her, causing her to run away in tears. Mild-mannered Wildcat, who never gets angry, scolds him, "That wasn't very nice, Baloo!"  Later, when they combine their unique strengths, his mechanical expertise and her imagination create an invention that gets them out of a Thembrian prison.

Molly's Secret Life:  Pastimes and Imagination

A fictional superhero on the radio, whom Molly emulates by running around wearing a colander as a helmet, a blanket as a cape and brandishing a deadly spatula.  Molly takes her make-believe games very seriously.  She admires strong female role models and adventure stories (her favorite story, read aloud until the pages were dog-eared: Gladys and the Gorilla.

Molly's squishy pet 'buffalo' (actually an endangered species that Molly tries to protect from a poacher).  Like the 'Eat Me' and 'Drink Me' effect in Alice in Wonderland, he grows to a humongous size when doused with water, and shrinks when he dries up, er off.   ;-) 

No, Molly doesn't keep a sock puppet in the basement as her oooonly friend (although that would explain a lot), but does have Lucy, a favorite rag doll, which she takes practically everywhere.  Sometimes called 'Faithful Sidekick Lucy' when Molly plays 'Dangerwoman'.  Molly treats Lucy like a younger character, blithely carrying on conversations with her. "Come on, Lucy!  Let's see what he's doing!"  I think the fact that she bonds so quickly with a sponge (Henry) and a doll proves that Molly is very lonely and this is her way of coping with it.  She doesn't seem to have any friends her own age the way Kit has (shudder) the Jungle Aces.

More commentary from Charles Gray:

Mr. Cunningham

Rebecca’s husband is never seen in the series-- Rebecca never even mentions him, we don’t know his first name, and we don’t know the nature of his departure --- whether ahead of flying crockery or in very small pieces.  That makes it difficult, but writers need to consider who he was, even if it’s never explicitly stated in the fic.  From a single TS comic, Molly starts to cry when she confides in Kit:

Molly:  “You know who I miss sometimes?  My daddy.  Since he di---when he (*sniff*)... I’m the only one to take care of Mommy now.”  Disney’s Talespin #7:  The Long Flight Home.

So Molly certainly remembers her father with great love, which indicates that he was around at least until she was four, and maybe even later then that.  Rebecca either doesn’t talk about him, or only speaks of him glowingly while Molly’s around.  The truth or falsehood of Molly’s belief could play a great role in her future --- remember her truthfulness, for if Rebecca is lying, she won’t take it well.

This also gets into one difficulty of writing for TaleSpin-- any story has to account for the fact that the series was intended for children, and some questions were never answered or even hinted at.  Of course, expanding on those questions is one of the fun parts of writing fanfic!

Other People
Given the constraints of writing for TS, it’s not surprising that there were no Molly episodes that didn’t focus on her life away from Higher For Hire.  Few people like watching kindergarten or first grade classes.

But... in terms of fanfic, it’s important to consider that Molly has a school, and that class has at least thirty other students, a teacher, and maybe some aids in it.  How does she relate to them?  Molly’s not a wallflower, so why doesn’t she bring over friends. Even Kit has friends, a teacher (as much as he would wish he didn’t sometimes) and after school activities that Baloo specializes in destroying.

There could be a variety of reasons-- perhaps she does, but Rebecca, seeing the devastation that one six-year-old can cause, doesn’t want to be responsible for bringing several, and having them play Godzilla to the waterfronts Tokyo.  Equally, the other parents may have doubts about the waterfront.

This might easily explain the episodes where Molly is nowhere to be seen-- she’s at one of her friend’s houses, spending the night. (I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if she’s invited back J.)

Another possibility is that Molly has few friends because of Rebecca.  She’s a single mother, trying to run a business and raise a child.  In the 1930’s, many parents might not consider Molly a proper friend for their children.  This would be especially true is Mr. Cunningham was absent via desertion or divorce rather then death.  On the other hand, Molly does star in school plays --- so perhaps she’s having great times with the other students at school, but the parents aren’t too thrilled at letting them come over.


Children are people, not just props to prove how prolific the adult characters are.  It's not easy to write for a child character.  They're trying things out for the first time (riding a bike, going to school, etc.) and don't know the rules of civilized behavior until it’s drilled into them by their caregiver.  Some kids are hellions, and some are sweet.  They can be cruel and know exactly how to hurt someone (destroying property, calling them names, etc.)

I believe a writer should try to recall early experiences to relive those first, raw feelings of being small, at the mercy of adults, trying to make sense of their strange behavior.  Believe me, to a child, grownups are illogical beings.  Why would they want to work when playing in the mud is much more fun?  Remember getting up for Saturday morning cartoons?  Playing with your food? Getting lost in a department store and feeling panic?  Fear of the dark --- especially basements?  You know there's a monster down there.  Sometimes he's under the bed, waiting for you to step onto the carpet so he can grab your ankle! Having to hide in a secret place to hear adults talk about the really interesting stuff they won't tell you?  Telling your mother/father something that’s important to you and being dismissed and sent off to bed? Having to go/do whatever your parents wanted (like going to church, having to sit still while visiting boring old relatives, etc.)  Try to recall what it felt like to be a child, without the adult experiences or cynical viewpoint.  You have very little control over your own life until you grow up and adults puzzle you with their polite small talk.  For instance, a typical situation might happen this way:

Rebecca (who's trying to be polite) "Oh, Harriet, I just love your new hairdo!"
Molly:  "But, Mom, yesterday you just said you hated it."
Rebecca (speaking through clenched teeth):  "Molly, go help Wildcat fix the motor now."

Molly is an only child and rather shy with strangers.  She's most comfortable in her bedroom having tea parties with her dolls.  I'm not sure how she would act around other children. Certainly if she saw a bully picking on someone, she'd bop 'em on the head and yell, "Cut it out, Creep Face!"  She can be defiant and rowdy sometimes, especially when outraged by injustice.  But I don't see her as the most popular kid in the class or getting along with another girl, unless she was a tomboy too.  She might try to join the boys' games.  She's a loner but adventurous.  She'd love to go cloudsurfing if Kit would only let her use his board.  She might even try to 'borrow' it without asking first (according to her logic, there's no point in asking because the answer would be 'no'.  If the adults don't know what she's doing, then technically in her devious little brain, she's not actually disobeying.) She'd probably prefer not to know if what she wants to do is wrong or not, because then she wouldn't have to deal with guilt or deception --- she could just go.  

In short, being a child means that you're too short to reach the cookie jar, but your belief in magic enables you to touch the stars.

March 2001

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