‘The most tentative, frightened little soul’
Fox, then 13, met Nash in the summer of 1973 when she was taking riding lessons from Susie Buchanan, a farm owner who died in 2013. Nash, a muscular, 6-foot-4 Olympic gold medalist, lived next door and served as a running coach for Buchanan and the riding students who lived with her that summer.
The group would meet at 5 a.m. to go on long runs, “to appreciate fitness and the fitness of our horses,” said Pamela Burdett, one of the handful of riders who lived at the farm with Fox the year Fox said she was abused. Burdett was 15 then.
“Back then, Jennifer looked asexual, like an 11- or 12-year-old boy, and she spoke in a whisper,” Burdett said in an interview. “To me, she was the most tentative, frightened little soul you could ever imagine.”
Burdett said she didn’t notice anything strange going on between Nash and Fox. But she recalled Nash once commenting on Burdett’s weight loss, and it gave her “a lascivious vibe.”
“I was like, yuck, and was disgusted because he was my dad’s age,” she said.
Fox, though, said she had enjoyed Nash’s attention. She remembered his saying that she, unlike the other girls, was mature and extraordinary. Her parents didn’t understand her, he told her. Nash and Buchanan, the farm owner, also told her that they were lovers, Fox said.
One night Buchanan brought Fox to Nash’s house, Fox recalled, so that Fox could spend the night. The scene is captured in “The Tale,” in which Dern played the character of Fox as an adult.
Fox, a prepubescent girl with braces who hadn’t had her first kiss, ended up in Nash’s bedroom. It was the beginning of an intimate relationship that would lead to Nash having sex with Fox multiple times, including coercing her to perform oral sex on him, she said.