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WWII Secret Army

10 things you didn't know about Joseph Stalin

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There's one thing we can be sure about: Joseph Stalin was terrifying. The man was a ruthless, unrelenting dictator who killed millions of his own people without a second thought, and his mark on history has been indelible.

That said there are still a few things left about Stalin that might be a little surprising. Below are 10 lesser-known facts about the Russian leader, including an answer to the question: did Stalin envision Planet of the Apes?

1. Stalin's name means man of steel

It's true: Joseph Stalin was actually born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili (on December 18, 1878) and changed his name from his original in his 30s. Why Stalin? Because it means, man of steel. So take that, Superman. (Or don't – though it would certainly make the new Superman reboot more interesting.)

2. His birthday is up for debate

According to official accounts, Stalin was born on December 18, 1879. However, the Old Style Julian calendar (the Russian calendar) marks his birthday as December 6. Stalin himself, however, changed his birthday to December 21, as well as his birth year (allegedly) to 1881, to throw off tsarist officials.

3. Stalin left school because . . . of multiple theories

Stalin is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a murderous dictator (wrapped in a mustache). And adding to this mystery is the question of why Stalin left school: according to some reports, the future leader couldn't pay his tuition. Others claim he was expelled for his anti-Nicholas II political views. And another states he missed too many exams. And arguably, we will never actually know.

4. Stalin's ape army is likely a myth

On top of being a man in desperate need of incarceration and rehabilitation, Stalin was also a man who was misquoted. Claims (courtesy of the Journal of Creation) exist that the dictator wanted to create an army of half-men, half-apes to restore Russia to glory, but 'Scientific America' has proven that the sole quote tying Stalin to physiologist Il'ya Ivanov isn't documented anywhere else. (Though Ivanov's humanzee experiments are very real, and very awful.)

5. Stalin loved movies

Stalin was a film guy. So much so that each of his houses had a private movie theatre, which inspired him to eventually rule by cinema. He was also pretentious: according to the Communist Party archives, the leader considered himself a producer, director, and screenwriter, as well as the ultimate censor. (Literally: he did everything from song lyrics and writing to coaching actors.) Thank all higher powers that be that this man did not live to have a film blog.

6. And he loved John Wayne more

Despite the overt western – literal and metaphorical – themes of John Wayne films, the archives also show that Stalin fancied himself a cowboy. Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable were his favourites, as was director John Ford and of course, The Duke. (Because who doesn't like John Wayne?) What he didn't like: French kissing and nudity, which is why he banned kissing in films for a while.

7. Stalin's go-to wine was Georgian – and it's making a comeback

Stalin's favourite wine was Khvanchkara (a Georgian wine with raspberry notes), and is making a comeback after Russia banned Georgian wine in 2006 due to its poor quality. However, Georgia's since become a go-to for wine connoisseurs, and as per a 2012 interview, its winemakers are grateful for the push to up their quality. (With no help from Stalin, obviously.)

8. His favourite musician was pianist Maria Yudina

According to a passage from The Ladder of the Beatitudes (by Jim Forest), Stalin's favourite musician was pianist Maria Yudina, who he liked so much that he insisted on a record of her performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, which he'd heard performed live on the radio. Unfortunately for them, they hadn't made a recording. But because Stalin insisted on a physical copy, she and an orchestra submitted, but not without being sure that if they didn't, they'd probably all be killed.

9. He was a small man with big ideas

Stalin only came in at 5'4, which is what earned President Truman's nickname, the little squirt. That said, this photo of Truman with Stalin and Churchill either doesn't do that nickname justice, or makes the three world leaders look equally small.

Slightly related: Stalin was actually super self-conscious about the way he looked, having a shorter left arm and scars from smallpox.

10. Stalin was responsible for the death of at least 20 million people

He said it himself: One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic, and Stalin sure left one. Throughout his reign (of terror), the dictator was responsible for the death of 20 million citizens, and 20 million soldiers and civilians who died in WWII. He also imprisoned, tortured, exiled, starved, forced persons into labour.