.Voice Actor Candi Milo’s Odd Childhood

In new memoir, renowned voice actress recalls her unlikely San Jose childhood

When Candi Milo was 8 years old, her father gathered the family together with a surprising announcement: he was starting a group home for the developmentally disabled, and they were all going to live in it.

The year was 1969 and the Nixon administration had just killed off the American mental institution. Hundreds of thousands of previously institutionalized patients poured onto the streets with little to no plan of where they would all go. 

“Nobody knew what to do, and my dad was like, ‘I got an idea: I’m gonna destroy my five kids’ childhoods and do this house,’” Milo says.

Her experience growing up in the Milo Arms group home is documented in her recent memoir Surviving the Odd, out late last year. In addition to recounting a very particular experience of childhood in San Jose, the book also provides a view into the early days of a contemporary crisis now hard to overlook.

Roughly, the story goes like this: Milo’s father, Nino Milo, was a well-regarded nightclub performer up until late-night shows phased him out of a career. Through the USO, he developed a rapport with disabled veterans in institutions like Santa Clara’s Agnews Asylum (now the site of Sun Microsystems). When those institutions abruptly closed in 1969, the elder Milo bought a disused fraternity house two blocks from San Jose State and welcomed a small group of former Agnews patients as the first residents of the Milo Arms.

Since her youth in San Jose, Candi Milo has become one of the most storied names in voice acting. 

“I’m probably the voice of your childhood—you just have no idea that it’s me,” she says.

Over the years, Milo has worked with Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, voiced characters for Looney Tunes, Cow and Chicken, The Wild Thornberrys, Phineas and Ferb and recently The Cuphead Show! She played the title character in the American run of Astro Boy and was the second voice of Dexter on Dexter’s Laboratory (my nerds, she also played Dona in Final Fantasy X, and Leviathan in Final Fantasy XV). This year, Milo was nominated for an Annie Award, the highest honor in animation, in the category of Best Voice Acting for her role as Witch Hazel in the Looney Tunes short “Hex Appeal.”

Throughout her time in show business, Milo would occasionally let slip information about her childhood in the Milo Arms. Few believed her.

“It would have two reactions: either somebody was incredibly offended that I was making this up at the expense of the disabled, or it was hilarious and they wanted to hear more,” she says.

In her book, Milo describes her embarrassing predicament: a young girl dropped off at school in a van emblazoned “Board and Care Home” with her home phone number beneath. 

“I didn’t put it in the book, but I have a photo of a letter that I wrote to my mom,” Milo says. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry to write you this letter’—wait for it—‘on your birthday, but I’m not going back to school tomorrow.’”

Surviving the Odd details how the young Milo went from loathing her life at home to empathizing with her housemates—her family included. “The real hero in this was the Santa Clara Valley,” she says. “They stepped up at a time when no one cared.”

Though its message is warm, its thorniest issue revolves around its diction. Early in the book, Milo explains her choice to use a certain R word now widely regarded as a slur: “that was the clinical diagnosis of most of the residents in our home. It appeared in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual 2nd Edition in 1968.” That diagnosis didn’t change, she adds, until 2013. 

“Everybody used the word,” Milo says. “If you won’t look at what the reality was, or your parents’ part in it, then we can’t make this right. We could see how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go.”

Due to her, let’s say, memorable childhood, people sometimes ask Milo if this is where her many, many voices come from. 

“I’m like, trust me, man, I don’t pull anything from my childhood. Trust me!”

Surviving the Odd

Out Now

New Haven Publishing

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