Starting her career with T. D. Frawley Stock Co., Ethel Clayton made her first movie in Hollywood in 1909 and played her last major film role in 1933. Before turning to film, she was a stage actress who had worked her way up from bit parts to star billing.
She was married in 1915 to Paramount director Joseph Kaufman, who died of pneumonia that same year. Later she married actor Ian Keith, but they separated after five years of marriage.
After her retirement, she lived with a brother, Donald Clayton Bloom, in Thousand Oaks until his death. She then entered a rest home.